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$1 billion raised to rebuild Paris’ Notre Dame after fire

Updated April 17, 2019 - 7:09 am

PARIS — Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, after the French president set a controversial five-year deadline to get the work done.

Notre Dame’s rector says he will close the burned-out Paris cathedral for up to six years.

Bishop Patrick Chauvet acknowledged that the famed monument would close down for “five to six years” as he spoke with local business owners Wednesday, two days after a blaze torched the roof of the cathedral and brought down its spire.

Chauvet said “a segment of the cathedral has been very weakened” by the devastating fire. He did not elaborate which section he was talking about.

The French prime minister has announced an international architects’ competition to rebuild the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Edouard Philippe is speaking following a special Cabinet meeting Wednesday focusing held by French President Emmanuel Macron on the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Philippe said the competition aims at “giving Notre Dame a spire adapted to techniques and challenges of our times.”

How long to rebuild

“We will rebuild the cathedral to be even more beautiful and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said.

Experts have said, however, that the ambitious timeline appears insufficient for such a massive operation. Even French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — while supporting the government timeline — acknowledged in an address Wednesday that it would be difficult.

“This is obviously an immense challenge, a historic responsibility,” Philippe said.

Prominent French conservation architect Pierluigi Pericolo told Inrocks magazine it could take triple that time.

“No less than 15 years … it’s a colossal task,” Pericolo said.

Damage examined

Construction teams brought in a huge crane and a delivery of planks of wood to the site Wednesday morning. Firefighters are still examining damage and shoring up the structure after Monday’s fire collapsed the cathedral’s spire and destroyed the roof.

Bells will toll at cathedrals around France on Wednesday evening in honor of the monument. Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated the site during a mass.

Presidential cultural heritage envoy Stephane Bern told broadcaster France-Info on Wednesday that 880 million euros ($995 million) has been raised in just a day and a half since the fire. Contributions came from near and far, rich and poor — from Apple and magnates who own L’Oreal, Chanel and Dior, to Catholic parishioners and others from small towns and cities around France and the world.

The French government is gathering donations and setting up a special office to deal with big-ticket offers.

Some criticism has already surfaced among those in France who say the money could be better spent elsewhere, on smaller struggling churches or workers.

Rose windows at risk

Paris firefighters say Notre Dame Cathedral’s rose windows are in good shape after a devastating fire, but that their support structures are at risk.

Fire fighter spokesman Gabriel Plus told reporters that the rose windows are “in good condition” but that “there is a risk for the gables that are no longer supported by the frame.”

He said firefighters took down statues inside the gables above the rose windows to protect them, and took care not to spray water too hard on the delicate stained glass.

He said firefighters and experts are still closely monitoring the building to determine how much damage the structure suffered and what needs to be dismantled to avoid collapse.

Investigation progress

Some 30 people have already been questioned in the investigation, which the Paris prosecutor warned would be “long and complex.” Among those questioned are workers at the five construction companies involved in work renovating the church spire and roof that had been under way when the fire broke out.

A plan to safeguard the masterpieces and relics was quickly put into action after the fire broke out.

The Crown of Thorns, regarded as Notre Dame’s most sacred relic, was among the treasures quickly transported after the fire broke out, authorities said. Brought to Paris by King Louis IX in the 13th century, it is purported to have been pressed onto Christ’s head during the crucifixion.

The cathedral’s famous 18th-century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes also survived. Some of the paintings and other art works are being dehumidified, protected and eventually restored at the Louvre.

The Paris prosecutor’s office says investigators looking into the causes of the Notre Dame fire have still not been able to look inside the cathedral, as it remains unsafe.

Merchants worried

Paris merchants whose livelihoods depend on Notre Dame tourism are worried about the cathedral’s stability and their own futures.

The island that houses the cathedral has been closed to the public since Monday’s fire, and its residents evacuated. It’s literally the nucleus of Paris — all distances in France are measured from the esplanade in front of Notre Dame.

It’s also one of the most-visited spots in France, whose economy depends heavily on tourism.

Patrick Lejeune, president of the Notre Dame neighborhood merchants association, told The Associated Press that the group’s 150 employees fear for the future.

“No one is talking about us,” he said. Bustling streets are now “totally closed. I don’t have access to my office.”

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