PARIS — The Louvre museum in Paris moved scores of art works to safety and soldiers evacuated residents trapped in some of the capital's outlying suburbs as the swollen river Seine hit its highest level in 30 years.
France's environment minister Segolene Royal said the Seine had breached 19 feet in central Paris, submerging roads running along the river, swamping small businesses on quaysides and forcing the closure of an underground commuter line.
The worst affected areas lie to the south of the capital. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, located near to Paris' Orly airport, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers helped stranded residents as floodwaters rose above knee level. In nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, locals kayaked along streets littered with abandoned cars.
"It's a bit frightening, everything that's happening," said one woman from Marseille who identified herself only as Odile. "Not long ago they ran a flood simulation, how to evacuate museums, residents. And now it's happening for real."
Both the Louvre and Orsay museums overlooking the Seine were closed to the public on Friday. In the Louvre, workers stacked dozens of boxes marked fragile and containing valuable statues, vases and art works. Crates could be seen stacked in corridors, overlooked by classical marble statues.
"For the museums, even if fortunately there isn't any flooding of storerooms as of today, there is an automatic process... to move works in the deepest storerooms higher," Bruno Julliard, Paris' deputy mayor, told France Inter radio.
The Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay are both home to world-renowned art collections, the former including the celebrated Mona Lisa painting and Venus de Milo statue.
Even as the Seine flooded higher, it remained well below the record high of 8.6 metres reached in 1910, when thousands of Parisians had to flee flooded low-lying areas of the city.
Officials warned flood waters could take several weeks to recede after the wettest May in France for 100 years.