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France Faces Multiple Challenges Of Floods, Strikes And Now Soccer


And we head now to the mess that is France today. Start with the worst flooding in 35 years. The Seine River peaked late last night more than 20 feet above normal levels. Then there are the labor strikes that have crippled train service and caused commuter chaos. And in the midst of all of this chaos, and with the threat of terrorism hovering in the background, France is hosting the European Soccer Championship next week, hundreds of thousands of people pouring in for a month of games, stadiums across the country.

NPR's indefatigable Eleanor Beardsley is on the line now from Paris. And Eleanor, I am exhausted just describing everything going on where you are. What's the latest?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yeah, it's true. Thanks, Mary Louise. Well, the latest is that 17,000 homes are still without electricity around the Paris region - huge damage done by these floods. The French Open just - the women's final wrapped up today, by the way. Serena Williams lost. There were days where they didn't even play matches.

KELLY: This is because of the rain.

BEARDSLEY: It's bad.

KELLY: It's been rained out. OK.

BEARDSLEY: Torrential downpours in the last week. But in spite of that, Parisians seem to be taking it in stride. In fact, I've been out today. The city has some 37 bridges across the Seine, and people are out - you can hear them behind me - all day, bringing families, taking pictures. They want to see this river. It's really astonishing.

KELLY: And you're standing on one of these bridges across the Seine right now, as we speak to you.

BEARDSLEY: I am. I was earlier near Notre-Dame on a bridge. Now I'm at the Pont Mirabeau, which is a beautiful bridge. The statues are half-submerged. The ladies have their legs in the water. The water's creeping up the trees. The highway across where cars used to go - gone.

KELLY: OK. Well, we mentioned the Euro Championship, the soccer championship, is arriving next week. How is that going to work in Paris?

BEARDSLEY: Well, actually the head of Paris Police - they have these big - you know, it's going on in stadiums across the country. And they're also going to have fan zones, one under the Eiffel Tower that can hold about 90,000 people. And the head of the police said, we need to cancel it when there's games going on in Paris. Our forces cannot - they're overstretched, they're exhausted. We just can't secure it.

But the head of, you know, the Euro Championship with the Paris mayor's office said no, it's going to go ahead. So it is. And actually, I spoke to some people today. I spoke to Mr. Medi Benkebin, who came down to the bridge near Notre-Dame with his kids. And I asked him, do you think France can do this right now?

Is France ready to host the Euro Championship?

MEDI BENKEBIN: Yeah, I think so. I think that everything is OK. There are organization team doing well, and....

BEARDSLEY: Is there any fear of....

BENKEBIN: Terrorists? I don't think so. For the moment, the people are more impressed about the weather and the economic situation of the country.

KELLY: Eleanor, OK, he mentioned the weather, which you can't control. But what about the economic situation, the stand-off between the government and labor unions? Just quickly - any chance of resolution in sight?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Mary Louise, yes, because the prospect of trains canceled and chaos is a horror. So the prime minister is in negotiations with this hard-line union, and they're supposed to be able to come to a deal where everyone can save face and say they won. And then the French can get on with their month of soccer games.

KELLY: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, updating us there from a bridge across the flooded river Seine in Paris. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.