The Latest: French president: Paris floods are 'exceptional'

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2016 2:28 PM
The Latest: French president: Paris floods are 'exceptional'

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on the flooding that has affected parts of Europe (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

French president Francois Hollande says "more decisions" may be required due to the "exceptional" flooding situation in Paris and other French regions.

Hollande spoke Friday at a press conference with visiting South-Korean president Park Geun-Hye. He didn't elaborate on what new decisions he is considering should the Seine's level keep rising.

Hollande said he has attended a meeting "so we can be vigilant regarding the rising water level, the peaks which might potentially involve more decisions."

The French president said "what is happening now, especially in Paris and in some regions, is exceptional."

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6:50 p.m.

French authorities have activated preliminary steps of a plan to transfer the French presidency, ministries and other sensitive sites to secure places should the swollen Seine River keep rising in Paris.

The Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security, or SGDSN, said Friday that French Prime minister Manuel Valls gave the green light earlier this week to set off the first stage of the "plan for the continuity of the government's work" in case of major floods in Paris.

The SGDSN says the first steps involve checking and preparing the different sites chosen for housing government staff should floods threaten Parisian places of power.

It says the French presidency and the prime minister's office are not immediately threatened by the floods because they are not on the Seine banks, but the National Assembly and the foreign ministry are at greater risk.

The office says that in its last stage, the plan would involve moving the French presidency from the Elysee Palace to the Chateau de Vincennes, a fortified castle just east of Paris. The National Assembly and the Senate would be transferred to the Chateau de Versailles, west of Paris, and part of the prime minister's office would be moved to Mont Valerien, a hilltop fortress just west of Paris.

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6:05 p.m.

Authorities say a 72-year-old man has died a day after being rescued from floods in southern Germany.

German news agency dpa reports that the man suffered a heart attack while he was rescued from a raging stream in the village of Triftern in Bavaria.

His death brought the toll of people killed in floods in Germany since last week to 11.

Authorities are still searching for four people reported as missing.

An 81-year-old man and a 77-year-old woman were rescued from a flooded basement in the town of Simbach, which has been among the hardest hit by the floods.

Police said the two were unharmed.

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This item has been clarified to say the total number of people killed in floods in Germany since last week is 11. An earlier version counted only those killed since Wednesday.

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5:40 p.m.

Scientists say extreme rainfall, such as that hitting France, has increased worldwide and especially in Europe because of man-made climate change.

Five different scientists told The Associated Press Friday that downpours like this are one of the clearest signals of global warming.

Worldwide record-breaking rainfall has increased 12 percent from 1980 to 2010, when compared to the previous 80 years, according to a 2015 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research study published in the journal Climatic Change. In Europe, the increase was 31 percent.

American climate scientist Chris Field says "one of the clearest signs of climate change, over much of the world, is the increase in the fraction of the rain that falls in the heaviest events."

Field headed a special 2012 report on extreme weather by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He said that "a warmer atmosphere can hold more water. And the consequences can be traumatic, as individuals, businesses, and communities struggle to manage very heavy rains."

Gerald Meehl, a climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research connected this to recent heavy rain in France and Texas.

"Heavy rains? Massive flooding? Get used to it: with climate change, this is the new normal," added Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

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5:05 p.m.

With leading Paris museums closed because of flooding, the surging currents of the Seine River have become a tourist attraction itself.

Scores of visitors and residents have gathered on the Mirabeau Bridge in western Paris to take pictures of the river with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

A replica of the Statue of Liberty on the Ile aux Cygnes island is surrounded by water and many inhabitants of the neighboring 16th district came to the riverbanks to show the highly unusual flood to their children.

Indian Prakash Amritraj, 42, visiting Paris with his wife and two children, took selfies on the bridge.

He said: "I had never thought of possible floods in Paris city center. In India we have the monsoon, but here! It's not supposed to happen!"

"It's kind of beautiful, in a way, but at the same time it's sad" for the people affected, he continued.

Many Parisians and visitors were also taking pictures of the nearby Eugene Poubelle street along the Seine River, with water levels reaching the basements of several buildings.

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4:25 p.m.

A French official says a blocked sensor led Parisian authorities to underestimate for hours the rising waters of the swollen Seine River.

Regional environment director Jerome Goellner tells The Associated Press that a piece of trash was trapped in an underwater sensor near the Austerlitz Bridge, which measures the river's height. He says that shaved 30 centimeters (nearly a foot) off estimates of the river's surging levels until authorities realized what was wrong.

The Seine has so far risen about 4.5 meters (15 feet) from its typical position following days of heavy rains. It is now at its highest level in 35 years.

French Environment Minister Segolene Royal says the river could eventually reach 5 meters (16 feet, 3 inches) over its normal level when it peaks, expected later Friday.

Goellner says it's not possible to put a precise time on the peak but "we're near the maximum."

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3:40 p.m.

The French government is preparing for possible evacuations of residents at a Paris campground and islands and a suburb west of the capital because of the worst flooding in decades.

The Environment Ministry says floods have hit city squares, basements and garages of the wealthy 16th district of Paris. Authorities are particularly concerned about protecting electrical lines from the rising waters.

The ministry said in a statement Friday that "there should be impacts upstream from Paris" and "possible evacuations."

Areas of focus are the Bois du Boulogne, a vast park on the city's western edge, the islands Ile de la Jatte and Ile Saint-Germain in the Seine River, and the suburb of Rueil-Malmaison.

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3:30 p.m.

The German Insurance Association estimates this week's flooding has caused some 450 million euros ($500 million) in damage in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg alone.

The agency, which represents some 460 member companies, said Friday that in addition to the costs for insured houses and contents, there would also be many payments for damaged vehicles and businesses, the dpa news agency reported.

Baden-Wuerttemberg was hit by the flooding first early in the week. Areas of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, which are not in the cost estimate, also suffered damage later in the week.

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3:20 p.m.

The Grand Palais exhibition center has been closed as a precautionary measure as Paris' Seine River continues to rise.

Spokeswoman Florence Le Moing confirmed the closure of the center Friday.

The glass-and-iron vaulted Grand Palais is known for art exhibitions that range from the classical to the modern. Its website says the complex draws some 2.5 million visitors annually.

The building is on the right bank of the Seine, roughly midway between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

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3:10 p.m.

Romanian authorities have extended a severe flood warning for nine parts of eastern Romania as rains are swelling rivers in the region.

The National Hydrology Institute said Friday that the highest "red" weather alert was valid until Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) in nine Romanian counties.

Authorities issued a lesser "amber" warning for floods for a larger area of eastern Romania.

Ten trains were canceled Friday in northeastern Romania due to the flooding, which has claimed two lives.

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3:05 p.m.

Paris City Hall is shutting some parks and cemeteries and is opening gymnasiums to shelter homeless people amid floods that city authorities say could take weeks to recede.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo said authorities are taking emergency measures because of dangers that trees weakened by rising water levels could fall on passers-by.

Speaking at a crisis center to deal with the worst flooding in the French capital in decades, Hidalgo said authorities are monitoring basements and garages at risk of flooding from rising groundwater.

She said the floods are already hurting the city economy, but no residents have been evacuated yet.

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2:55 p.m.

French media are reporting that a well-to-do residential area in Paris, the 16th district, is beginning to flood as the Seine River rises.

Television station BFMTV on Friday broadcast footage of murky water coming up basement stairs, of a flooded street and of water trickling across an apartment corridor.

A spokesman for the mayor of the 16th district said he had no information about any flooding.

Paris' Seine River has been climbing steadily following days of heavy rainfall but until now has done little damage beyond the steep embankments on either side.

Several museums and cultural institutions have closed as protective measures. The floodwaters are expected to peak later Friday.

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2:35 p.m.

France's prime minister says ministers are meeting in Paris and the government has activated a crisis cell as the country faces the prospect of continued flooding.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after meeting his Greek counterpart in Athens Friday that the situation required "a lot of vigilance and care." Valls, who was returning to Paris Friday afternoon, added that he was being constantly informed of developments.

He said: "All services have been mobilized to deal with a situation that might, unfortunately, last."

The interior ministry says 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes across France in operations involving thousands of firefighters, military personnel and other officials.

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2:10 p.m.

French environment officials say the Seine River will reach its maximum level late Friday as rainfall across the country begins to taper off.

An update posted to the environment ministry's flood watch website says that the Seine would reach its highest level "from the end of the day Friday."

Ministry officials also have downgraded the "red alert" issued for a tributary of the Seine, the Loing, and the Indre River, in central France. Several rivers, including the Seine, are still on "orange alert," meaning that there remains a risk of serious flooding.

While storms are still expected in France's northeast the rainfall will not hit river basins already affected by flooding.

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2:05 p.m.

French officials say it's too early to say when the Louvre and other cultural heritage sites affected by the flooding will open.

French Culture Minister Audrey Azouley told journalists she and others were evaluating the situation "nearly hour-by-hour as we don't know yet the evolution of the level of the Seine River."

The Louvre, which is on the right bank of the Seine, and the Orsay Museum, on the left, were closed Thursday following fears that the rising water levels would lead to leaks. Paris' National Library is also closed.

Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez said the museum's artwork was in no immediate danger but that the museum needed about 72 hours of lead time to begin evacuating its reserve, which he said comprises about 250,000 pieces of art. Asked when the Louvre would reopen, he said: "We can't say yet."

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1:20 p.m.

Rescue workers in Belgium have found the body of a beekeeper who was swept away by rising waters while trying to protect his hives.

The man was reported missing in the village of Harsin on Thursday. Local authorities said the man, in his 60s, was found on Friday morning after fire department divers resumed the search for him.

After days of heavy rain, the Wamme river overflowed its banks and flooded several villages. Homes were inundated and cars swept away.

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1:10 p.m.

German authorities say asylum-seekers are pitching in to help recovery workers and townspeople in flooded areas of southern states.

In the Bavarian town of Simbach am Inn, near the Austrian border, Syrian Naja Al Hassas told the dpa news agency Friday that "we know what it means to live in a crisis area and to lose your home" as he helped shovel away rubble.

The 30-year-old was one of about 25 Syrians helping in the town. His friend, Mouath, said "we've gotten so much help from the people in Simbach, now we can give something back and that's good."

Simbach Mayor Klaus Schmid says "we couldn't cope without volunteer helpers."

Authorities say nearly 50 asylum-seekers have also been helping out in the southwestern town of Braunsbach, which was flooded on Sunday.

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11:15 a.m.

A beekeeper has been reported missing in eastern Belgium after being swept away while trying to save his hives from rising waters.

After days of strong rains, the Wamme river overflowed its banks and flooded several villages in the Belgian province of Luxembourg.

Fire department divers hunted for the missing beekeeper from Harsin until 2 a.m. Friday, and were expected to resume the search during the day. Homes were inundated and cars carried away by the high waters.

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11:00 a.m.

Authorities say that two people have died and 200 people have been evacuated from their homes as floods swept parts of eastern Romania.

The interior ministry said 7,000 firefighters, police and others had been dispatched overnight Friday to help in flood rescue efforts.

The ministry said in a statement that a man died after a torrent of water knocked him off his bicycle in the eastern village of Ruginesti. In Bacau county, in eastern Romania, another man was found drowned.

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10:55 a.m.

French officials say that a second person has died in flooding that has hit large parts of the country.

France's interior ministry said Friday that the 74-year-old man fell into a river in the Seine-et-Marne region east of Paris. He was riding a horse at the time of the accident on Thursday evening. No other details were provided.

Earlier this week, an 86-year-old woman died in her flooded home in Souppes-sur-Loing, southeast of Paris.

The interior ministry says 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes across France in operations involving thousands of firefighters, military personnel and other officials.

Waters continue to rise even as the rainfall tapers off. The Seine River is expected to reach its highest level later Friday.

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10:40 a.m.

Tourists at the Louvre are being turned away as museum workers scramble to protect the world-famous institution's priceless pieces of art from the rising waters of the Seine River.

The operation to remove artwork from the Paris museum's lower stories has attracted worldwide interest amid flooding which sent the Seine's waters rising to their highest levels in roughly 35 years.

Louvre staffers are due to address journalists about the operation later Friday. Other museums and cultural institutions have also been closed across France, including the renowned castles of Chambord and Azay-le-Rideau.

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10:00 a.m.

German officials say they've recovered the body of a sixth person who died in this week's flooding in Bavaria near the Austrian border.

Authorities say the 65-year-old man's body was found overnight in the town of Simbach am Inn, which was indundated on Wednesday. Now that flood waters have receded in the area, the search continues for other missing people. Local police told the dpa news agency Friday that they were still trying to locate an elderly couple in Simbach.

In all, that brings the total of people killed in flooding over the last week in Germany to 10 — including four in Baden-Wuerttemberg, to Bavaria's west, in flooding that hit Sunday and Monday.

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9:45 a.m.

French energy company Enedis says that more than 20,000 customers are without power in the wake of days of flooding and heavy rains.

In a text message, the company says that the blackouts Friday are concentrated in the departments of Seine et Marne and Essonne — to the east and south of Paris, respectively.

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9:20 a.m.

French officials say that the Seine River is still rising in Paris as France's unseasonable spate of rainfall begins to taper off.

Traffic in the capital was snarled as flooding choked roads and several Paris railway stations were shut. The country's environment ministry said the Seine had not reached such levels since 1982.

The Louvre Museum is closed Friday as staff work to remove artworks from rooms threatened by the rising waters.

French President Francois Hollande has said that a "natural disaster" will be formally declared next week in a Cabinet meeting for areas most affected by the flooding that has hit Paris and France's central regions.