The Parisian floods of 1910 were a disaster for the people of Paris. While no one died, it is documented as one of the worst natural disasters in all of France’s history. To better understand this disaster, we need to take a look at the leading causes and how it unfolded.
This post will explore what caused this event to happen and how flooding occurred in Paris. I will also explain how the flood affected the city of Paris on an individual level.
As far as I know, there are no official reports written about this disaster. So I will be using various sources that will allow me to get a better understanding of this disaster. I’ll try to stay on point here and avoid too much detail on how it all happened, but some may find it useful.
Preparedness for any future disasters is very important in today’s society. Paris was no exception. The French government and the city’s people, for that matter, were very concerned about the frequent heavy rainfall and flooding that plagued this area.
The section of Paris in question at the time was bordered on the south by the River Seine, which rises in Belgium. The river extends north into France before exiting to the lower Loire Valley. The walled city of Paris at this time had grown to cover seven islands in its south end. On these islands were various key government buildings and important monuments.
The city was already trying to figure out how to stop flooding in Paris. The city had dikes that protected the center of the city, but they also serve as a cause for the flooding. While they can help prevent floods, they also stop water from draining into the river and after a certain amount of rainfall, it accumulates and floods around the city.
Another problem was that deforestation and land development resulted in less water being absorbed by the ground and runoff escaping downriver more quickly.
In addition to that, there were already several factories located along the river, especially in Paris’ industrial zone. These factories produced a significant amount of waste that was not being collected and disposed of correctly, which made the runoff even worse.
Most notably, a large-scale dam built to create a reservoir was completed in 1900. The dam sits at the headwaters of the river and holds about 790 metric metric tons of water from where it is diverted downstream into a vast canal system.
The reservoir is called the “Chantereine” or “Pond of Chantereines.” It lies in the city’s 7th arrondissement, which lies across the Seine from Hôtel de Ville. Before this dam was built, flooding had been a major issue for many years.
There are many stories about how the city’s flooding was dealt with in different times. Some of them include that it used to be moats surrounding Paris’ fortifications, but they became filled with water. Another story is that during the reign of Louis XI in the 15th century, all of the city’s water sources flowing into Paris’ main river would be diverted into some underground tunnels.
The Turning Point: A new powerful storm system developed on Saturday, January 22. It brought heavy rain to some areas two days before this. The new storm system took its time moving up along the French coast and eventually began affecting Paris on Wednesday morning with relentless heavy rains across the region.
The storm’s center tracked just south of Paris. It brought up to 300mm of rain across the area in less than 24 hours. The storm continued to track northward, leaving Paris in the flood zone until Thursday afternoon when it moved out to sea.
The flood water rose quickly, reaching a peak level within 5 hours on January 25th. The flood waters rose to about two meters high in some areas, but even higher in certain locations. The flood affected 20 communes in the Seine River Valley and 77 municipalities overall.
Countless homes, colleges, museums, government offices, factories, and other buildings either suffered water infiltration or were completely destroyed.
Initial reports said that the Seine River had never reached such a height in its recorded history. However, given the recent changes to the river’s hydrology and the fact that high-water marks have been marked on some of the walls along its banks in Paris tell a different story. This quickly became known as “The Great Flood”.
Over the next few days, the flood waters slowly receded to below flood level. By Saturday, January 29, the flood waters had completely drained out of Paris. The cleanup process began almost immediately.
The post-flood cleanup was huge and would take nearly 6 months to complete. Paris officials quickly set up emergency shelters for those whose homes were destroyed. The government assigned a special military force to help with the cleanup.
To help keep the body language of Parisians positive during this time, the city even hired a musical band called “The Parisian.” They were responsible for playing music in the streets to help people stay positive while waiting for their houses to be cleaned up.
After cleaning up, Paris needed to make repairs and clean out buildings all around the river area. Some buildings were so damaged, they couldn’t be repaired. For these buildings, people then had to find new places to live.
Many people around the city donated their time to help clean up. It was estimated that more than 1 million volunteers helped in cleaning up. Money was also raised to help pay for the cleanup and repairs. Unfortunately, some of these funds were embezzled by the mayor of Paris at the time, Georges Clemenceau.
To fund the cleanup, Parisian officials had to claim that they would use the public’s donations to cover the costs. The French government bore some of these expenses.
This level of damage is why this flood is often referred to as “The Great Flood”.
References: Wikipedia – French Revolution – Paris floods. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Flood_of_Paris (Accessed October 10, 2010) History Commons – 1892 Flood in Paris.