SAINTES, France (Reuters) – Southwestern France was hit by heavy flooding on Monday following days of torrential rain, and several other regions including eastern Paris were on flood alert ahead of a cold snap expected later this week.
The worst flooding was in Saintes, 115 km (71 miles) north of Bordeaux, where the river Charente stood at a near-record level of 6.20 metres (20 feet). The waters were at waist level in several streets and knee-deep in large parts of the town.
Hundreds of people were evacuated as water seeping into cellars knocked out power supplies. Local authorities laid beams on cinder blocks so residents could walk from flooded houses to dry land.
“We knew this was in a flood zone, but not that the area could flood up to this point, otherwise we would never have taken this flat,” said Saintes resident Cyril Cheransac, who had to leave the apartment where he has lived for less than a year.
Fire brigade chief Pascal Leprince said his services had evacuated about 400 people in Saintes and he estimated that up to 800 people had left their houses on their own.
To the southeast of Bordeaux, where the river Garonne last week flooded large areas between Marmande and La Reole, floodwaters were receding, but the waters of the Charente were not expected to fall before Wednesday.
“We are at a peak level now. We expect water levels to rise a little more in coming days, and to subside from mid-week,” a Charente-Maritime spokeswoman said.
The city of Cognac, centre of brandy production on the Charente river, also saw several streets flooded.
The France Meteo weather service put seven departments on flood alert on Monday, including Charente-Maritime, two areas along the Loire river, the Somme and Oise regions in northern France and the Seine-et-Marne region east of Paris.
In Paris, parts of quays on the river Seine have been inaccessible for days after the river broke its banks, but water levels, at 4.35 metres on Monday morning, remained well below recent highs of 5.88 metres seen in January 2018 and 6.10 metres in June 2016.
Along the river Marne, which flows into the Seine on the eastern edge of the capital, the river broke its banks in several towns, notably in Conde-Sainte-Libaire and Esbly, where several streets were flooded.
(Reporting by Stephane Mahe in Saintes and Gonzalo Fuentes Moreno in Esbly; writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Gareth Jones)