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Notre-Dame: Massive fire ravages Paris cathedral

  • 16 April 2019
Related Topics
Media captionThere were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell

A major fire has engulfed the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, one of France's most famous landmarks.

The 850-year-old Gothic building's spire and roof have collapsed but the main structure, including the two bell towers, has been saved, officials say.

Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze as teams try to salvage the artwork stored inside.

President Emmanuel Macron called it a "terrible tragedy". The cause of the fire is not yet clear.

Officials say it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

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Visibly emotional, Mr Macron said the "worst had been avoided" and vowed to launch an international fundraising scheme to rebuild the cathedral.

How did the fire spread?

The fire began at around 18:30 (16:30 GMT) and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.

Damaged parts of cathedralPresentational white spacePresentational grey line

Some 500 firefighters worked to prevent one of the bell towers from collapsing. More than four hours later, fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the main structure had been "saved and preserved" from total destruction.

Sections of the cathedral were under scaffolding as part of the extensive renovations and 16 copper statues had been removed last week.

Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the building had suffered "colossal damages", and teams were working to save the cathedral's remaining artwork.

 
Media captionThe fire department said a major operation was underway

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV that "invaluable heritage" had been destroyed, adding: "Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see".

How have people reacted?

Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.

INTERACTIVENotre-Dame cathedral fire

After

Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing

Before

Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire
 

Because of the fire, Mr. Macron canceled a speech on TV in which he was due to address the street protests that have rocked France for months.

Visiting the scene, the president said the cathedral was a building "for all French people", including those who had never been there.

"We'll rebuild Notre-Dame together", he said as he praised the "extreme courage" and "professionalism" of the firefighters.

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A symbol of a country

Analysis by Henri Astier, BBC World Online

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country's literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

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Facts about Notre-Dame

  • The church receives almost 13 million visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower
  • A Unesco World Heritage site, it was built in the 12th and 13th centuries
  • Several statues of the facade of the Catholic cathedral were removed for renovation
  • The roof, which has been destroyed by the blaze, was made mostly of wood
  • Read more about the treasures of the cathedral
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What has been the international reaction?

The Vatican expressed "shock and sadness," adding that it was praying for the French fire services.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a "symbol of French and European culture".

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet: "My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral".

Also on Twitter, US President Donald Trump said it was "horrible to watch" the fire and suggested that "flying water tankers" could be used to extinguish the blaze.

In an apparent response, the French Civil Security service said that was not an option as it might result in the collapse of the entire building.

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April 16, 2019

 A look at the best news photos from around the world.

 


 

An old picture of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral is seen outside the cathedral, one day after a fire devastated the 12th-century landmark in central Paris, France.
1An old picture of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral is seen outside the cathedral, one day after a fire devastated the 12th-century landmark in central Paris, France.
Smoke rises as fire spreads through the spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 15, 2019.
2Smoke rises as fire spreads through the spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 15, 2019.
Performers demonstrate at Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London, Britain.
3Performers demonstrate at Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London, Britain.
Police detain a protester as climate change activists demonstrate during an Extinction Rebellion protest at the Waterloo Bridge in London, Britain, April 15, 2019.
4Police detain a protester as climate change activists demonstrate during an Extinction Rebellion protest at the Waterloo Bridge in London, Britain, April 15, 2019.

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Notre Dame to Rebuild after the Fire

4 hours ago

Experts prepare to remove a statue from the damaged Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Experts prepare to remove a statue from the damaged Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
 

It took 15 hours for 400 French firefighters to put out the fire at the 850-year-old Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.

The cathedral, one of Paris's most famous landmarks, lost its spire and roof, but still has its iconic bell towers.

The Crown of Thorns, one of the cathedral’s treasures, was rescued. The crown is believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion. Other religious statues were removed last week from the cathedral roof as part of the restoration of the church’s spire.

Officials said the world famous 18th - century organ that has 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived. But no one can tell whether it has been damaged by water or will need to be restored. There is also little information on the condition of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows and its many paintings.

A spokesman for Paris's firefighters said on Tuesday morning, "the entire fire is out." He added that workers were "surveying the movement" of the structure and the contents in it.

The Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit told RMC radio, “Notre-Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not.”

Officials consider the fire to be an accident, possibly as a result of the restoration work at the cathedral. However, investigators will be interviewing people who worked on the cathedral's roof, where the flames first started.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the site on the River Seine Monday night. He pledged that Notre-Dame would be rebuilt. He called the structure "a part of us," referring to the country of France, and he asked for help repairing it.

Germany and Poland were among the countries that offered assistance.

“We are united in sorrow. Notre-Dame is part of the cultural heritage of mankind and a symbol for Europe,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter.

French businessmen have also pledged hundreds of millions of euros for reconstruction, including Bernard Arnault, France's richest businessman, and Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault.

Even so, repairing the cathedral — including the wooden beams that made up its roof — presents problems.

Bertrand de Feydeau is the vice president of the preservation group Foundation du Patrimoine. In an interview with the Associated Press, he noted that the cathedral's roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that was cut in the 13th century." He added that the roof restoration work would have to use new technologies.

For Olivier Lebib, who has lived in Paris for 40 years, it is necessary for the cathedral to be restored to its former glory.

“Notre-Dame is our sister, it is so sad, we are all mourning — Parisians, French people, tourists, the Chinese, the whole planet,” he said. “Thank God that the stone structure has withstood the fire.”

I'm John Russell.

This story was based on reports from the Associated Press and Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

_____________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

 

spire – n. a tall, narrow, pointed structure on the top of a building

iconic – adj. a widely known symbol

organ – n. a musical instrument that has a keyboard and pipes of different lengths and that makes sound by pushing air through the pipes

crucifixion -- n. an act of killing someone by nailing or tying his or her hands and feet to a cross: an act of crucifying someone

restoration – n. the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, etc.

preservation – n. the act of keeping something in its original state or in good condition — often + of

mourn – v. to feel or show great sadness or unhappiness about (something)

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Correspondent
 
  
The steeple and spire of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapse as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (AFP / Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

Paris -- As Notre Dame burned, and thousands spilled onto the streets and quays of Paris to watch the spectacle, AFP journalists were recording the historical moments from every which angle during the 15 hours that it took some 400 firefighters to put out the flames ravaging the 850-year-old structure.

Here are a few of their stories.

 
Firefighters douse flames rising from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Bertrand Guay)

Ludovic Marin, photographer

It was terrifying to see the roof completely engulfed by flames. I’ve done a lot of assignments inside Notre Dame and when I saw this, I said to myself, “That’s it, it’s all going to burn.”

I watched the roof burn and remembered all the things that I have seen inside the cathedral.

 

 
 
 
 

It was such a horrible spectacle. All of the memories came back all at once and I just froze for about 20 seconds. I was in the spire six months ago. I had to climb up inside it, it was like climbing inside a narrow well.

Then my professional reflexes took over and I started snapping photos again.

 
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Ludovic Marin)

Agnes Coudurier, video journalist

I thought it would be over very quickly. “I’ll be back for dessert,” I told my family before leaving.

I went with colleagues to the square in front of Paris City Hall, where we set up a live feed. The square and all the streets leading to the river was a sea of people.

The atmosphere was a bit surreal. Everyone was filming with a phone. I don’t think anyone was actually looking at the spectacle with their own eyes. Every time something in the structure fell,  the crowd would gasp. It was this massive collective release of emotion.

I didn’t think that I would get caught up in it as much as I did. When the spire crashed, it was really very moving. At that point, we had no information that anyone had been killed or injured  (later we found out that one firefighter was injured), but you really got a sense of witnessing History. I nearly cried when the spire fell.

Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, photographer

I walked all around the cathedral, taking pictures. I and a colleague managed to go just inside the police perimeter. I would take pictures, then walk to a new spot, sending the photos that I just took as I did so.

The most powerful moment for me was when the roof collapsed. Because the hundreds of bystanders who were watching let out a collective gasp. By then the spire was on fire and I had a feeling that it would go too. I was so focused on taking pictures of it that I didn’t hear anything around me when it tumbled.

 
(AFP / Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

I was also very moved by the people who were singing. I don’t know why it sounded like religious chants to me.

 
(AFP / Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

Eric Feferberg, photographer

There were several moments when I was so impressed by what I saw that I would stop and had to remind myself to keep working.

The most moving thing for me were the crowds. They were so thunderstruck. There was a group on their knees by a little church. I wanted to show all these people witnessing over a few hours the destruction of a cathedral that it took a hundred years to build.

I had just taken images of all the major Paris landmarks with a drone last week, so I got pictures of Notre Dame before the fire. It’s mythical, it’s the heart of Paris.

 
(AFP / Eric Feferberg)

Philippe Lopez, photographer

I went to the top of the Montparnasse tower to get photos. When I arrived, before snapping away, I just stopped to take in the scene. It looked like an open coffin. The spire had already fallen by that time. The flames looked like they were coming from inside the monument. I thought of all the times that I had photographed Notre Dame. It always made for such nice images. Especially in springtime, when the trees were flowering. Like they are now.

 
This general view taken from Montparnasse Tower shows flames and smoke as they billow from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Philippe Lopez)

François Guillot, photographer

It was very difficult to move around. It seemed like all of Paris was in the streets, watching the flames. Fire is mesmerizing that way, it’s a captivating spectacle, especially when you have something like this that’s burning.

For me, the fire was more interesting than the crowds to photograph. One of my favorite images was the one with the sun. If there were no fire, it could have been a postcard.

 
Smoke billows as flames destroy the roof of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Francois Guillot)

Patrick Anidjar, reporter

I live about a hundred meters away from Notre Dame and was at home, strumming jazz on my guitar when smelled something odd. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I went to my window to take a look. I leaned out and caught a glimpse of Notre Dame. There was a huge plume of yellow smoke billowing from behind the two front towers. I grabbed my phone and ran toward the cathedral.

 
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Patrick Anidjar)

Outside there was mayhem. There were people everywhere, police were screaming and pushing people back. I managed with my press card to get close and just started snapping away and taking video.

I saw flames racing to the top of the spire and then saw the roof catch fire. The towers of Notre Dame are made of stone, but I knew that much of the structure behind was made of wood. I was afraid that the whole back part could collapse. I hope none is inside, I thought.

I would take a few pictures, shoot some video, and send them to the editors and the social media team at AFP headquarters. Then I would shoot some more. After about 15 minutes I noticed that I had no network. None of the images that I had sent went through. So I made my way to a cafe with wifi to file. Then I went back out there.

The spire had collapsed while I was gone. The whole perspective of the place changed completely. It was another monument without it.

 
The steeple of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapses as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)
 
 
Bystanders look on as flames and smoke billow from Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP / Patrick Anidjar)

People were crying and hugging all around me. I was surprised by the outpouring of emotion. “It’s the end of an era.” “This is a catastrophe.” “We have to rebuild.” Everyone was taking pictures.

I remember thinking how out of control the whole thing seemed. You could see that the entire back part was on fire and you had two or three firefighter hoses pouring water into this huge inferno. It seemed so futile.

This blog was written with Pierre Celerier and Yana Dlugyin Paris.

 
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AFP /
Patrick Anidjar)
 
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FINISHED
 
April 17, 2019.
 

 



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