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'History in Flames’: Parisians Shocked as Fire Ravages Notre-Dame Cathedral; Main Structure 'Saved'

A devastating blaze engulfed the 850-year-old landmark structure in Paris at a time when renovation work was on at the site.

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Updated:April 16, 2019, 1:46 PM IST
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'History in Flames’: Parisians Shocked as Fire Ravages Notre-Dame Cathedral; Main Structure 'Saved'
Fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
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Paris: The main structure of Notre-Dame cathedral in central Paris has been saved after hours of fire-fighting to put out a devastating blaze, the city's top fire official said late Monday. However, the spire of Paris’ landmark structure in central Paris collapsed as the fire, which began on Monday afternoon, engulfed Notre-Dame cathedral.

"We can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved," Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters outside the cathedral, adding it appeared that the two main towers of the building had now been saved.

He said that the main task now was to cool the temperature inside the cathedral, a procedure that would take several hours.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez, also present at the scene, said that for the first time "the fire had decreased in intensity" while still urging "extreme caution".

He defended the fact that water-bombing planes had not been used, as urged in a tweet notably by US President Donald Trump, saying that such action would have posed a "major danger" for the structure

The fire incident took place at a time when renovation works were being carried out at the site. The cathedral, one of the most historic landmarks in Paris and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, is at least partially destroyed.

Parisians watched in horror, some crying, others offering prayers, as red flames and thick flame engulfed the structure.The firefighters
struggled for hours to extinguish the flames engulfing the Notre-DameCathedral.

Flames ravaging the roof illuminated the outline of the monument's two square towers in a fiery glow, and were reflected in the waters of the Seine.

Along the Pont au Change bridge, which connects the Ile de la Cite with the Right Bank, the atmosphere was one of a vigil as hundreds of people watched in hushed silence as smoke rose into the night sky.

Many were quietly singing an Ave Maria in Latin, including Stephane Seigneurie, 52, who said he has lived in Paris for the past 25 years.
"I come often, and go in even where there's no mass because it's an extraordinary place, entwined in the history of France," he said.
"Politically, intellectually and spiritually, it's a symbol of France."

When Seigneurie says that he's very sad, an elegant woman with dark bobbed hair who is crying whispers to him, "We have to pray."
"We were heartbroken because as New Yorkers we've been through this," Duffy said, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

"In terms of heritage this is much worse. This is a world treasure. Everyone knows Notre-Dame," she said.

'Tragedy'

Gasps and cries of "Oh my god" erupted at 7:50 pm (1750 GMT) when the top portion of the church's spire came crashing down. More gasps came a few seconds later when the rest of the spire collapsed, caught on the cameras of thousands of mobile phones.

"Paris is disfigured. The city will never be like it was before," said Philippe, a communications worker in his mid-30s, who had biked over after being alerted of the fire by a friend.

"I'm a Parisian, my father was a Parisian, my grandfather as well -- this was something we brought our sons to see," he said. "I won't be showing this to my son."

"It's a tragedy," he added. "If you pray, now is the time to pray."

"It's finished, we'll never be able to see it again," said Jerome Fautrey, a 37-year-old who had come to watch.

'History up in smoke'

"It's incredible, our history is going up in smoke," said Benoit, 42, who arrived on the scene by bike.

Sam Ogden, 50, had arrived from London on Monday with her husband, their two teenaged sons, and her mother. They had come to Paris specifically to see Notre-Dame, part of a world tour over years to see historic sites.

"This is really sad -- the saddest thing I've ever stood and watched in my life," Ogden said.

She said the fire looked tiny at the beginning, "then within an hour it all came down."

Emilia Freitas, a French teacher from Portugal, was visiting Paris with her husband and daughter, who is studying architecture.

"We were very sad because it's a very important monument, and also worried because many things have happened in Paris lately," she added, referring in particular to the jihadist terror attacks that have struck the city since 2015.

Miguel-Angel Godia, his wife Esther Fajardo and their daughter Raquel, 10 -- who had seen the animated "Hunchback of Notre-Dame" film -- had planned on visiting the church for the first time Tuesday.

"It's a real shame... it's something so immense, so emblematic," said Esther, wiping tears from behind her glasses with the tip of a scarf.

While people helplessly watched the fire engulf the historic structure, the resolve to restore the 850-year-old monument was evident.

"We will rebuild Notre-Dame together", an emotional French President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Monday evening as he visited the famed Paris cathedral.

With tears in his eyes, Macron said that "the worst has been avoided" thanks to the work of firefighters who battled for hours to save the Gothic cathedral's two towers and facade.

He vowed to draw on "the best talent" to rebuild what had been destroyed.

"What happened tonight in Paris and at Notre-Dame Cathedral is a terrible tragedy," Macron said.

"The worst was avoided even if the battle has not been completely won yet and the next few hours will be difficult."

The 41-year-old president described cathedral "the epicentre of our life" and the cathedral of "all the French", whether religious or not.
He said that "starting tomorrow" he would launch an international appeal for the restoration of the beloved church.

"And we will rebuild Notre-Dame because it is what the French expect," he said, flanked by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit.


(With inputs from AFP)
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