Authorities look for answers after a massive fire devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
PARIS — Paris firefighters declared victory Tuesday, saying that the devastating Notre Dame Cathedral fire was officially put out after an intense effort to save the world famous house of worship in the French capital.
The Paris Fire Service announced on Twitter that firefighters “came to grips with” the blaze at 3:30 a.m Tuesday, more than 12 hours after nearly 400 firefighters had battled the inferno that altered the city’s skyline. Two policemen and one firefighter had been slightly injured, according to the fire service.
Paris firefighters spokesman Gabriel Plus said “the entire fire is out” and that emergency personnel were “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues.”
The cathedral’s iconic twin bell towers were visibly intact. The 18th century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived, along with other treasures inside the structure, officials said.
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Parisians and tourists from around the world had watched in horror Monday evening as flames ravaged the roof, causing Notre Dame’s spire to collapse. After a night of effort, firefighters were able to save the landmark’s main stone structure.
Despite light drizzle and cloudy-gray skies, there was a sense of relief Tuesday on the streets of Paris with thoughts shifting from sorrow to action from folks examining what needs to be done to restore the architectural marvel.
“You can still see that the statue of the Virgin Mary is still standing,” said Catherine Oudot, 63, gesturing toward the facade of the mediaeval Catholic cathedral. “It’s a relief to know that it survived. Notre Dame isn’t just a Christian landmark or a cultural landmark. It’s an absolute symbol for us, for France.”
Oudet lives near the Eiffel Tower. She was at home when she heard the fire had started.
“I saw photos and images on TV of smoke bellowing out of the cathedral. I was in shock,” said Oudet, who was at home when she heard the fire had started. “I couldn’t believe it. How does this happen in the 21st Century with all the technology we have: smoke alarms, fire alarms? I’m struggling to understand it.”
Officials said Monday that the blaze could be linked to renovation work — the cathedral was in the midst of a $6.8 million renovation project.
France’s public prosecutor said investigators would visit the Notre Dame site Tuesday to talk to the people who were working on the renovations to try to gather information about what may have caused the fire.
A massive fundraising campaign was also being launched Tuesday to rebuild the cathedral. At least $339 million has already been pledged to help rebuild the cathedral. French billionaire Francois Henri Pinault pledged $113 million towards reconstructing the cathedral, while fellow billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH group pledged $226 million.
“The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” their statement said Tuesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron rushed to the scene of the blaze Monday. Announcing the fundraising effort, he vowed to reconstruct the church.
“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years,” said Macron.
The Vatican said Pope Francis was “praying for French Catholics and for the people of Paris in face of the terrible fire which has ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral,” the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II said in a message to Macron: “My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”
The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its rectangular towers in a spectacle watched by throngs of horrified spectators. However Paris Fire Chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church’s main structure had been saved after firefighters prevented the flames from spreading to the northern belfry.
Emmanuel Gregoire, the deputy mayor of Paris, told BFMTV on Tuesday that a plan to protect Notre Dame’s treasures was successful and the famous 18th century organ remained intact. He described “enormous relief” at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ.
City prosecutors announced they were opening an investigation. Arson was ruled out as well as possible terror-related motives, officials said.
The damage to the building, however, was extensive. “Two-thirds of the roofing has been ravaged,” Gallet said.
It was a dramatic shift from earlier Monday when officials predicted the structure would burn to the ground.
“Everything is burning. Nothing will remain from the frame,” Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot had told French media. The 12th-century cathedral is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The blaze comes during Holy Week, an important event for the Catholic Church with Easter days away.
Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara in London; the Associated Press
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