Kim Hjelmgaard and Rebecca Rosman
Published 6:13 AM EDT Apr 16, 2019
PARIS — A massive fundraising campaign was being launched Tuesday to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral, hours after a huge fire engulfed the iconic 800-year-old house of worship in the French capital.
The Paris Fire Service announced on Twitter that firefighters “came to grips with” the blaze early Tuesday, more than nine hours after they began the effort. It said nearly 400 firefighters had battled the inferno, and two policemen and one firefighter had been slightly injured.
Paris firefighters spokesman Gabriel Plus said “the entire fire is out” and that emergency services were “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues,” according to media reports.
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
“The worst has been avoided, although the battle is not yet totally won,” said French President Emmanuel Macron who 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.
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.
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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.
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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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