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Notre Dame fire out after 12 hours; rebuilding efforts mount

Updated April 16, 2019 - 3:58 am

PARIS — Firefighters declared success Tuesday morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers.

What remained was a blackened shell of the monument immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a building that had survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated amid renovation works at the start of Catholic Easter week.

Its iconic twin bell towers remained visibly intact. Paris officials said the world famous 18th century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived, along with other treasures inside the cathedral, after a plan to safeguard heritage was quickly put into action.

At dawn, the twin 69-meter towers swarmed with building specialists and architects, looking tiny from the ground as they conducted analysis.

“The entire fire is out,” declared Paris firefighters’ spokesman Gabriel Plus, adding that workers were currently “surveying the movement of structures and extinguishing smoldering residues.”

“The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist,” said Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez in front of the cathedral.

One of the city’s five senior vicars, Philippe Marsset, told AP: “If God intervened (in the blaze) it was in the courage of the firefighters.”

“Notre Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not,” Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, said on RMC radio.

Officials consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of the restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to ease the national mourning.

“Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,” said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang.

Macron seeks, gets pledges

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us” and appealed for help to do so.

As the country woke up in collective sadness, its richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH answered that call with a pledge of 200 million euros ($226 million).

A communique said that the Arnault family was “in solidarity with this national tragedy, and join in the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, a symbol of France, of its heritage and togetherness.”

Businessman Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault also said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs.

An aide says that Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has offered assistance and Polish specialists for the task of rebuilding Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral that was damaged by fire.

Germany’s foreign minister says his country is prepared to help with the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral after a devastating fire.

Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter that French President Emmanuel Macron has called for help from outside France and “Germany stands ready to do that in close friendship.”

Maas added that “we are united in sorrow. Notre Dame is part of the cultural heritage of mankind and a symbol for Europe.”

European Union chief Donald Tusk is calling on the bloc’s member countries to help France rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral saying the site in Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together.

Tusk, who chairs summits of EU national leaders, told lawmakers Tuesday that the blaze reminds Europeans of “how much we can lose.”

Organ to be assessed

The 12th-century church is home to relics, stained glass and other works of art of incalculable value, and is a leading tourist attraction. Its organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry.

“The organ is a very fragile instrument, especially its pipes. It has not burnt, but no one can tell whether it has been damaged by water. Nobody knows if it is a functioning state or will need to be restored,” Bertrand de Feydeau, a senior French heritage preservation official, told the AP.

Paris Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire described authorities’ “enormous relief” at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ, which were quickly transported to a “secret location” by officials after the fire.

Religious statues that were removed last week from the cathedral roof as part of a restoration of the monumental Paris church’s towering spire were also spared.

The 3-meter-tall copper figures, which looked over the city from Notre Dame’s 96-meter-high peak, were sent to southwestern France for work that is part of a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the cathedral spire and its 250 tons of lead.

On Thursday, the public got a first ground-level look at the statues, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, when a huge crane lowered them onto a truck.

No evidence of arson

The Paris prosecutor says there’s no evidence of arson in the Notre Dame fire and that they’re working on the assumption that the blaze was an accident.

Remy Heitz says the investigation will be “long and complex.”

Speaking Tuesday, after the blaze was put out, he said five investigators are working on the probe. He says they will be interviewing workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral’s roof, which was being repaired before the fire and which is where the flames first broke out.

A French cultural heritage expert says France no longer has trees big enough to replace ancient wooden beams that burned in the Notre Dame fire.

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told France Info radio that the wooden roof that went up in flames was built with beams more than 800 years ago from primal forests.

Speaking Tuesday, he said 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 were cut in the 13th century.”

He said the restoration work will have to use new technologies to rebuild the roof.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez announced that architects and other experts would meet at the cathedral early Tuesday “to determine if the structure is stable and if the firefighters can go inside to continue their work.”

World reaction

Meanwhile, some nations began to offer help to rebuild the landmark structure.

President Donald Trump called the cathedral “one of the great treasures of the world,” and the Vatican said Pope Francis felt “shock and sadness.”

The French president has said he would seek help from the “greatest talents” in the world to rebuild Notre Dame.

Japan’s government said it would consider sending support to the French government. “Its damage is a loss to the world and our hearts ache,” said Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the world to come together to rebuild the Paris landmark.

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