The Louvre halted admissions on Thursday and the iconic Paris museum will remain closed to the public to allow priceless artworks to be removed if the swollen River Seine keeps rising higher, said an internal email alerting the staff seen by Reuters.
"The museum will remain closed to the public tomorrow out of precaution: there is no danger to the public or our staff but will allow us to calmly remove certain art collections should it be necessary," read the the email.
After days of torrential rains, the French government has issued an orange alert for central Paris, with the Seine's water level bursting through 5 meters (16 feet). Its record high was 8.60 meters during devastating floods of 1910. It could peak at 6 meters in Paris on Friday, officials said.
Thousands have been forced from their homes south of Paris as the river surged to its highest level in 30 years in the French capital, shutting down not only the Louvre but also the Orsay museum and a metro line.
In Evry-Gregy-sur-Yerre, south of Paris, a man on horseback drowned on Thursday, the prefecture said in a statement. Le Parisien newspaper said the 74-year-old had been trying to cross a flooded field. The horse survived with minor injuries.
He was the second victim of the torrential rains that have caused the Loire and Seine rivers to burst their banks. An 86-year-old woman was found dead in her flooded house in a small town southwest of Paris late on Wednesday.
"Since yesterday it's just been a deluge," said Jerome Coiffier, an inhabitant of Longjumeau, less than 13 miles south of Paris, where firemen wading thigh-deep in water rescued inhabitants using inflatable boats.
At least 3,000 out of 13,000 inhabitants were evacuated in Nemours, 45 miles south of Paris, as floodwaters crept toward the second story of buildings in the town center.
Prolonged heavy rain also pounded parts of neighboring Germany and at least five people have died in floods in Bavaria state in the south of the country, officials said.
In Paris, the Seine's rise forced the SNCF rail operator to close the RER C commuter line that runs along the river and is used by tourists to reach the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Versailles.
President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency in the worst affected areas and promised funding to help local authorities deal with flood damage. Unusually heavy rains in June showed the urgency to curb climate change, he said.
In the Loire Valley, Chambord castle, a UNESCO world heritage site, found itself surrounded by water.
The national weather service said the greater Paris region had in May endured its wettest month since 1960.
In the Loiret region, where local officials called on the army to help evacuate motorists trapped on the A10 motorway, the floods were the most severe in a century.
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