PARIS (Reuters) - Floods that inundated parts of France this week, killing four and forcing thousands from their homes, could start easing as the Seine river stabilized after reaching a peak on Saturday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
The floods, the worst the French capital has seen since 1982, forced its famous Louvre and Orsay museums to move scores of artworks and precious artefacts to safety. It also disrupted traffic in several areas.
The Seine river rose to about 6.10 metres (20.0 ft) on Saturday morning and was now stable, authorities said. In 1982, the river rose to 6.18 metres.
"It looks like things are getting calmer," Valls said, adding that a return to normal would take several days.
Valls said four people died in the floods and 24 others were wounded and about 20,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
"It will take at least a week for the Seine to return to its normal level," said Bruno Jamet, a hydrologist at Vigicrues, a state body that monitors flood levels. He added that the Seine will stay above 6 meters for several hours on Saturday before receding slightly over the weekend.
The worst affected areas lay just to the south of the capital. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges near Orly airport, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers helped stranded residents as flood waters rose above knee level. In nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, locals kayaked along streets littered with abandoned cars.
In Paris, the rapid transit metro line RER C that runs close to the river was shut down as well as several metro stations and roads near the banks of the river.
Paris landmarks including the Louvre and Orsay museums, the Grand Palace, Discovery Palace and the National Library were closed due to the floods.
However, for several tourists visiting the French capital, the Seine bursting its banks was an attraction as many lined Paris bridges to take pictures.
"I find this rather spectacular," Asma, who is visiting from Lyon in the east of France, told Reuters television.
"I'm enjoying looking at the level of Seine river... it is an event to witness. It doesn't prevent us from visiting Paris, and in any case, it gives Paris a special flavour," she said.
According to the French Insurance Association (AFA), damages due to floods could cost insurers at least 600 million euros ($682.20 million). ($1 = 0.8795 euros)
(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)