The newly elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said it will take ‘years of work’ to restore the Notre-Dame Cathedral, gutted by fire on Monday.
He said this as Parisians mourned the devastation of their historic monument, over 800 years old and as the Pinault family, one of the richest in France pledged 100 million euros ($113 million) for its reconstruction.
President Emmanuel Macron, who cancelled a national broadcast to respond to Yellow Vest protests, said he would launch an international fund to rebuild the monument.
Macron, who headed to the scene, said a “national undertaking” would be launched, and that “far beyond our borders, we will appeal to the greatest talents… who will contribute, and we will rebuild”.
The efforts will begin in earnest today as the Fondation du patrimoine, a heritage organisation, will launch a “national collection” for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame, Anne Le Breton, deputy mayor of the French capital’s 4th arrondissement, said in a statement to AFP.
The fire that destroyed Paris’s historical monument began around 6.50 pm (1650 GMT).
“I was not far away, I saw the smoke. At first, I thought it was the Hotel-Dieu (hospital) but then I realised it was the cathedral. When I arrived, ash was beginning to fall,” said Olivier De Chalus, head volunteer guide of the cathedral.
The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. It spread from the attic, and quickly across a large part of the roof.
The flames devoured the roof’s wooden frame, which is more than 100 metres in length and nicknamed “the forest” and brought down the spire.
An investigation was opened for accidental destruction by fire, Paris prosecutors said.
Investigators were focussed on whether the fire spread from the site of ongoing reconstruction work on the roof of the cathedral, a source close to the investigation said.
Construction workers were spoken to Monday evening by investigators, the department said.
Firefighters announced early Tuesday the fire was “completely under control” and “partially extinguished”. Only “residual fires” were still burning.
Around 11.00 pm (2100 GMT), they announced that the structure of the cathedral had been “saved and preserved”.
From the moment the fire was spotted, a major emergency operation was put in place to contain the blaze.
Four hundred firefighters with 18 fire hoses, some perched on cranes tens of metres off the ground, battled to contain the fire as quickly as possible.
However, using water-bombing aircraft — as suggested by US President Donald Trump — was not considered: “If used, (this) could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral,” France’s civil security service tweeted.
At around 7.50 pm (1750 GMT), the cathedral’s spire — one of Paris’s most famous landmarks at 93 metres high — collapsed.
Within a few hours, a large part of the roof had been reduced to ashes.
The extent of the damage inside the cathedral was not yet known by around 11.00 pm (2100 GMT).
“The fire affected two-thirds of the roof, which has collapsed, as well as the spire,” said Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet, adding that the operation was focussed on preserving the rear of the cathedral where the most valuable works are located.
The Holy Crown of Thorns and a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis, two irreplaceable artefacts, had been rescued, the cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet said.
The survival of Notre-Dame’s three great stained-glass Rose windows, each of which tells a Bible story, is still uncertain, the AFP reported.
At least one appeared still intact after firefighters spent hours battling the blaze that engulfed the Unesco-listed cathedral.