European river flood risk increases

Paris and Strasbourg watch their rivers rise as rapid thaw and further rain add to the flood risk.

Kehl, east of Strasbourg, shows flooded road signs after the Rhine river burst its banks.
Kehl, east of Strasbourg, shows flooded road signs after the Rhine river burst its banks. [Frederick Florin/AFP]

Three major European rivers are flooding. The Seine is creeping into Parisian suburbs, the Rhine has burst its banks near Strasburg and in the Rhone valley, south of Lyon, the river is running into the town of Grigny.

Multiple Atlantic weather systems have brought not just snow, but persistent rain to France, Germany and Switzerland. Rivers are over their banks all over France, with 23 different districts on orange alert. The Seine was recorded at 4.96 metres at the Austerlitz Bridge, on Tuesday afternoon, and could reach nearly six metres this weekend in Paris.  

Though not unusual during the winter season, the Seine’s rising waters bring back memories of flooding in June 2016 when the river hit its highest level in 30 years. Parisian authorities have suspended river traffic and Railway company SNCF said that six train stations running alongside the Seine will close for several days including those for the Eiffel Tower and Musee d’Orsay.

An emergency containment zone, a polder lake, has already been opened in Strasbourg to stop the Rhine overflowing significantly. Snow, then rapid thaw, have added to the water running into the river.

Rivers across Switzerland, both in lowlands and in the Alps, are extremely high after a week of rain, snow and now thaw. In the lowlands, heavy precipitation and melting snow have increased the risk of floods and landslides considerably. Since Saturday, a total of 60-110 millimetres of rain has been recorded in the Central Plateau region. For some places, this represents more than the average amount for the entire month of January.

The River Doubs to burst its banks and flooded parts of the mediaeval town of St-Ursanne, in the canton of Jura. In the Alps, there is a risk of land and mudslides due to rain gorged slopes, at an altitude as high as 2000 metres. Numerous mountain roads are affected or closed in the cantons of Valais and Graubunden, as well as in central Switzerland and the Bernese Oberland.  

With anything up to 1.7m of snow falling during the last week in the Alps, now a belt of rain, then more snow, the risk of further downstream flooding is significant.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies