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The flood of the Seine in 1910

By Micheline Gutmann (Translated by Gaby Laws)

The food rue Félicien-David

Rescue rue Félicien-David
(collection M. Gutmann)

A century ago, in January 1910, it wasn’t snow that covered the streets of Paris, instead it was the river Seine. This event was almost a family one as we have heard so much about it from our parents and grandparents. My father frequently said "I was two years old, my mother carried me in her arms to the kitchen window, she showed me the water that covered everything and said: "Look at this so that you will remember it all your life! And, all my life, I have kept that picture in my head."

Two simultaneous events caused this disaster. Obviously, the heavy rain fall during the previous days swelled the Seine and the Marne rivers but also, and much less known, were the repairs being made to the wall bordering the Seine in the 16th district, at the top of the Passy neighborhood. As a result there was no wall, no barrier, to the flow of water from the Seine to stop it pouring into Paris, starting from exactly this place. That is why the rue Félicien-David was the first to be flooded. The 27th January, was a catastrophe. The flood water reached up to the tip of the beard of the Zouave du Pont de l'Alma.

The water twisted and turned through the corridors of the metro. Some stations became underground lakes. All too fast the Ledru-Rollin Avenue was covered by two meters of water, the roof of the Orleans railway collapsed, the water rose at the rate of 5cm per hour. People sailed up Maubert Square. Horses in the Jardin des Plantes were up to their chests in water, animals were evacuated. Factories dumping waste into the Seine were dumping it into the streets of Paris.

Civil servants carried on with their lives; local customs officials stopped boats in order to charge them for transporting goods. Everywhere, the parapets were reinforced but often in vain. On the Champs-Elysées, a carriage disappeared into a crevasse; streets collapsed in various places, pavements fell in to the basement opposite the Saint-Lazare railway station.

Members of the Académie Française sailed to the Institute; the President of the Republic was forced to have a cold lunch.

At about 8pm the water started receding.

Among the sources: The Almanac of History by André Castelot.