Water levels on River Seine in Paris begin to recede after reaching highest level in 35 years

Heavy rainfall is persisting across central Europe

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View of the flooded banks of the river Seine in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris. Image: Christophe Ena / AP/Press Association Images

Water levels on the River Seine in Paris have begun dropping according to authorities.

They had breached the nine metre level - a 35-year high - following days of torrential rain across central Europe.

French President Francois Hollande is to declare a state of "natural catastrophe".

5,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the city - they remain on alert as the severe weather is expected to continue.

President Hollande's emergency measure, expected to be declared next week, will unlock millions of euros in compensation payments to homes and businesses left severely damaged by flooding across Paris.

With the Seine expected to stay five metres above normal levels for several days, neighbourhoods across the capital are braced for evacuations - and many landmarks are already shut down.

At the Louvre, home to Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, some 250,000 pieces of art are being moved from basement storage areas in a painstaking operation by curators.

Libraries, museums and other tourism hotspots are also closed - and contingency plans are being drawn up to move France's foreign ministry and lower house of parliament in the event of flooding.

French authorities have urged residents in affected areas to remain vigilant, as floodwaters could take weeks to clear and have already claimed the lives of 16 people across Europe.

Eleven of those killed were in Germany, two in France, two in Romania and one in Belgium.

France's environment minister, Segolene Royal, has said further victims could emerge as floodwaters begin to recede.

Even though Parisians and tourists have been urged to stay away from the swollen Seine, crowds have gathered on bridges in the city centre to see the surging currents.

One of the France's worst affected regions is Loiret, not far from the capital, where more than 5,000 have now been forced to leave their homes.

Meanwhile, 51 people have been injured in lightning strikes at a festival in Germany.

Police say they were attending the 'Rock am Ring' music event in Mendig, near Franfrukt yesterday when an electrical storm hit.