PARIS: The rain-swollen River Seine in Paris receded today for the first time in a week after nearing its highest level in three decades, triggering a scramble to save artworks in riverside museums.
The Seine stood at 6.06 metres above normal levels at 8:00 am local time, down from a high of 6.10 metres overnight, the environment ministry's Vigicrues flood watch website said.
The level was the same as that recorded yesterday afternoon, when the river rose to levels last seen in 1982, prompting emergency measures.
The famed Louvre and Orsay museums shut their doors in a race to move art treasures from their basements, some metro stations were closed and Parisians were advised to stay away from the Seine.
But by today, as authorities were counting the cost of over a week of flooding in central and northern France, the spectre of devastating floods in the city had begun to ebb.
"We're now in the stabilisation phase, even if we could still get one or two centimetres more," said Bruno Janet, head of modelling at Vigicrues.
The environment ministry yesforecast that the Seine would remain high throughout the weekend -- but still far off a 1910 record of 8.62 metres -- before starting to subside.
Across Europe, at least 17 people have been killed in floods that have trapped people in their homes and forced rescuers to row lifeboats down streets turned into rivers.
The City of Paris said it had opened two gyms to provide shelter for the homeless.
Pieces of driftwood, plastic bags and other flotsam today swirled in the muddy waters which had inundated the city's famous tree-lined riverside walkways, a popular haunt of strolling couples.
Firefighters warned people to keep away from dangerous parts of the river, but crowds gathered undeterred on Pont Neuf and other iconic bridges to snap pictures of the fast-flowing waters.
"It is a reminder that nature is more powerful than man and we cannot do anything, only wait," said Gabriel Riboulet, a 26-year-old entrepreneur, as he took in the scene.
A small number of basement flats in the capital were flooded yesterday and a campsite in the Bois de Boulogne forest in the west of the capital was cleared but there was no order yet for any Parisians to evacuate.
Several metro stations were closed and workers piled sandbags on platforms to hold back the water.
Boat traffic has been suspended in the capital, as has a regional train line that runs along the Seine.
French President Francois Hollande said a state of "natural catastrophe" would be declared when the cabinet meets next Wednesday, a necessary step to trigger compensation payments.
Losses across France could reach more than 600 million euros (USD 680 million), said Bernard Spitz of France's association of insurers.