The Next Flood

When Parisians wanted to know the height of the river, they closely watched the statues of four soldiers on the Pont de l'Alma. One of them was a Zouave, a proud colonial soldier in uniform with his cape flowing behind him, holding his rifle by its barrel tip. He stuck one foot forward as he stared watchfully across the Seine, his bearded chin pointing upward, as if poised to spring to action. When the water began climbing in earnest, the water was lapping against the ankles of his boots, about six feet above its usual level. But the quay walls through the city's center were much higher, reaching well over his head. Once the water peaked on January 28 at 20 feet above normal, the Zouave and his fellow soldiers were up to their necks.

Some of the debris sweeping through the city on the river's powerful current included casks of wine and pieces of furniture, which Parisians saw as free for the taking. Risking life and limb, people leaned or climbed over the rails of the bridges to get as close as they could. Treasure-seekers tried to grab some of the river's loot with poles or sometimes with bare hands, although the Seine swept most of the pieces away.