Stunned Parisians and tourists cry, pray and sing as 400 firefighters desperately fight to save Notre Dame

The 800-year old Notre Dame Cathedral houses many relics and historic artwork. As firefighters battled the blaze Monday night, a French Interior Ministry official said they might not be able to save the historic cathedral. But the flames finally appeared to die down shortly before midnight local time. (Paris Fire Department)


WASHINGTON  As a new day began on Tuesday, firefighters were still desperately battling to save the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which caught fire Monday evening local time   just six days before Easter  and toppled the 315-foot-tall spire towering above one of the most well-known symbols of Christianity.

President Emmanuel Macron rushed to the scene as one of the oldest buildings in France’s capital burned. Meanwhile, shocked spectators — Parisians and tourists alike — flooded the streets and looked on in horror — many crying, some praying, others singing hymns — as one of the Europe’s most iconic landmarks attractions burned.

The Paris Fire Department said one firefighter was seriously injured.

After heavy smoke was spotted on the roof in the early evening local time, big flames broke out on the top portion of the medieval cathedral. According to French newspaper Le Monde, the fire broke out in the attic of the monument before spreading to the roof.

Restorations have been ongoing at the cathedral and scaffolding could be seen outside. But it is not known if the renovations had any connection to the fire.

The blaze apparently started around 6:30 p.m. local time, just as the landmark — which attracts 13 million visitors a year — was closing. (Paris is six hours ahead of Washington.) The fire was still burning at 11 p.m. local time, creating an eerie orange glow across the night sky.

However, shortly before midnight local time, the flames appeared to have died down. The two towers were still standing.

Paris Fire Department photo

Firefighters initially had difficulty reaching the cathedral because it is located on an island along the Seine River, so firefighters had to fight evening rush hour traffic as they tried to get across the bridges leading to Notre Dame. When the firefighters arrived on the scene, their hoses could not immediately reach the flames. Eventually they used a water canyon and were finally able to get the hoses close to the flames.

About 400 firefighters were on the scene, according to an Interior Ministry official. But the official, Laurent Nunez, also told reporters at the scene in the late night that firefighters might not be able to save the cathedral.

Construction on Notre Dame (translation: Our Lady) started in 1163 and was completed in 1345, according to the cathedral’s website. Many relics as well as artwork dating as far back as the 12th century are housed at the architectural icon. Among the artifacts are a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus when he was crucified.

The fire occurred the day after thousands of Catholics and other worshipers packed the cathedral for Palm Sunday masses.

President Donald Trump, who was in Burnsville, Minn., for a Tax Day round table discussion on Monday, expressed his sadness about the blaze and the importance of the landmark. “That’s beyond countries, that’s beyond anything,” he said of the cathedral. “It’s a part of our culture.”

He also gave a suggestion on Twitter for the firefighters.

A woman implicated in a foiled plot to blow up a car packed with gas canisters near Notre Dame in 2016 was in a French court on Friday. Ines Madani, 22, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for recruiting would-be jihadists to go to Syria and to participate in terror attacks against France between March 2015 and June 2016.

Madani also is charged with being one of three women who tried to start the explosion near Notre Dame. Her trial on those charges is scheduled to begin on Sept. 23.

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