In January 1910, the streets of Paris, the City of Lights, turned into waterways, not unlike the canals of Venice. It was a sight that caught the Parisians by surprise, forcing them to adapt to a city submerged. This unusual scenario was the result of what we now remember as the Great Paris Flood of 1910.
Towards the end of 1909, the French capital had seen an unusually high amount of rainfall. By January 1910, the Seine River, the city’s primary waterway, began to swell. Day by day, the river rose steadily, eventually bursting its banks and flooding the city. The water level reached a peak of 8.62 meters – almost 20 feet above the norm, submerging streets, homes, and landmarks in the process.
As the city found itself knee-deep in water, life in Paris had to adjust to the new circumstances. Parisians swapped their daily modes of transport for boats and makeshift bridges. Images from that time depict people rowing down the streets, which were now temporary canals, with the iconic Parisian architecture as a surreal backdrop. This period gave birth to the term ‘Les Zouaves,’ referring to the statue of a Zouave soldier on the Alma Bridge, which Parisians used as a makeshift flood marker.
The flood affected the city’s infrastructure significantly. Gas, electricity, and the telephone network were cut off in many places, leaving parts of the city in darkness. Paris’s extensive underground network, including the newly built Metro, was inundated, disrupting daily commutes and the city’s vital functions. Even the famous Louvre Museum was at risk, with staff and volunteers working tirelessly to move artwork to safer locations.
While the 1910 Paris Flood caused extensive material damage, leading to displacement and property loss, the actual human toll in terms of fatalities was remarkably low. Official records state that the flood resulted in only one confirmed fatality, a figure that seems almost miraculous considering the scale and severity of the disaster. The low casualty rate can be attributed to the slow onset of the flood, which allowed residents ample time to evacuate their homes and move to safer areas.
While the waters started to recede after a month, it took much longer for the city to fully recover. The flood led to considerable policy changes, including new laws for Paris’s urban planning and infrastructure to mitigate future floods’ impact.
Below are some historical photos that capture the devastating impact of the Great Flood of 1910 on the enchanting city of Paris. These photos not only showcase the extent of the damage caused by the flood but also shed light on the extraordinary efforts undertaken to evacuate the affected areas.