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Notre Dame Cathedral fire extinguished; cause of blaze still unknown

Kim Hjelmgaard and Rebecca Rosman, USA TODAY
Published 3:32 a.m. ET April 16, 2019 | Updated 8:31 a.m. ET April 16, 2019

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Authorities look for answers after a massive fire devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
USA TODAY

PARIS — Firefighters declared victory Tuesday, saying that the devastating Notre Dame Cathedral inferno was officially put out after an intense effort to save the more than 850-year-old 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 flames 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 world famous roof, causing Notre Dame’s spire to collapse. After a night of effort, firefighters were able to save the landmark’s main stone structure. 

The tragedy comes during Holy Week, an important event for the Catholic Church with Easter days away.

Notre Dame, the most famous of Gothic cathedral of the Middle Ages, was built over a 100-year span beginning in 1163. It has survived the French Revolution, World World I and the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. 

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 — examining what needs to be done to restore the jewel of medieval Gothic architecture. 

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“You can still see that the statue of the Virgin Mary is still standing,” said Catherine Oudot, 63, gesturing toward the facade of the 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.”

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Oudet, who lives near the Eiffel Tower, 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,” Oudet said. “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.”

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said there’s no evidence of arson in blaze and that they believe it was an accident. The inferno could be linked to the $6.8 million renovation project underway. Heitz said the investigation will be “long and complex,” and that 50 investigators are involved in the probe.  

Workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral’s roof will be interviewed, Heitz said. 

A massive fundraising campaign was also underway Tuesday to rebuild the cathedral. At least $339 million has already been pledged. French billionaire Francois Henri Pinault pledged $113 million, 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. “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.

 

More: Views of the Notre Dame Cathedral before, after, and during blaze

More: ‘Worst has been avoided’: Notre Dame Cathedral’s structure is saved; French president vows to rebuild

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 spectators. 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. “Two-thirds of the roofing has been ravaged,” Gallet said.

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, which many believe was worn by Jesus Christ. 

More: Cathedral resurrection: A look at famous houses of worship reborn after destruction

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Tuesday’s good news 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.”

Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara in London; the Associated Press

More: 850-year-old Notre Dame survived the French Revolution. Here are 4 other things to know

 

 

 

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