A capable layman’s history of the Paris flood of 1910.
The flood precipitated an outpouring of relief and general cooperation by the inhabitants, and the fairly predictable and successful outcome—the city quickly got back on its feet in a few months—robs the elegant narrative of any shattering denouement. The city’s reaction to the flood, however, functioned as a “dress rehearsal” for World War I, and Jackson wisely keeps this in mind as he threads the elements of gravitas throughout his tale. The rising water levels of the three major rivers around Paris—the Marne, Yonne and Seine—began to converge on Paris by mid-January, due perhaps to unusual warming, elevated levels of rainfall and deforestation. The outlying suburbs were submerged by Jan. 24. People began to measure the terrifying progress of the Seine by its height on the statues of the bridges. Due largely to the dictates of the tireless, dedicated prefecture of police, Louis Lépine, the military activated relief efforts, rescuing people on requisitioned boats, piling sandbags along the quays, constructing passerelles (“a complicated system of wooden walkways and footbridges”), housing victims in schools and churches and remaining vigilant for looting. Charitable organizations took charge, especially the Red Cross, and U.S. President Taft, head of the American Red Cross, offered aid. Jackson adds an effective human-interest touch by extracting entries from diaries and letters by eyewitnesses, such as American writer Helen Davenport Gibbons and French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Thanks to the Parisian solidarity across class lines, the city did not have to resort to martial law, and disease remained at bay. The author includes the post-flood debate about nature vs. science, and finds useful comparison in recent crises such as Hurricane Katrina.
A spirited look at the Parisian move into “Système D”—crisis mode.