PARIS — A day after a devastating fire erupted in the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral, the French people — and much of the world — vowed to restore an iconic church that’s served as the symbol of Paris for 850 years. 

More than $700 million in committed donations poured in Tuesday to rebuild the damaged portions of the cathedral with major help from some of the richest families in France.

It came amid a sigh of relief after fears that the building might burn to the ground were assuaged and many historic artifacts, initially assumed to be destroyed, were found salvaged. 

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised address to the nation Tuesday evening, made a call to unity and to set aside political differences in the coming days to work to rebuild the cathedral.

Throughout French history, he said, towns, forts and churches have burned from revolutions, wars or mankind, “and each time we have rebuilt.” 

“We are rebuilders,” he said. “There’s a great deal to be rebuilt. And we will make the cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful. We can do this and we will mobilize everybody.”

Macron said that he wanted Notre Dame rebuilt in 5 years. But architects say the repairs could take decades. 

“This is going to be a slow process and one that’s going to take a lot of time,” said John J. Casbarian, dean emeritus at Rice University’s School of Architecture, where he oversees a the school’s program in Paris.

The French interior minister said Tuesday that there are still some risks that may endanger the structure of Notre Dame cathedral, noting that the centuries-old house of worship was “under permanent surveillance” because it could still budge.

Christophe Castaner told reporters that state workers would need to wait 48 hours before being able to safely enter Notre Dame and handle the art works still inside. “We will be standing at (Notre Dame’s) bedside,” he added.

Firefighters earlier declared victory when they announced the devastating inferno was officially put out after an intense effort to save the cathedral 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. There were no reported fatalities. 

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.”

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

Photos and video from inside Notre Dame showed light beams coming from the decimated wood roof, which was built from nearly 13,000 oak trees. It helped fuel the raging fire. Smoldering rubble could be seen piled up on the cathedral’s floor. And yet there were glimpses of hope – the cathedral’s stone foundation remained strong and  candles were still lit from visitors who had gone there the day before. 

The cathedral’s famous twin bell towers were visibly intact. The 18th century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived, as did all three of the massive Rose stained-glass windows that date back to the 13th century and other historic treasures from inside the cathedral, officials said.

Evacuated artworks, including the Christ’s Crown of Thorns, have been transferred to the Louvre museum in Paris. 

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A massive fundraising campaign was underway Tuesday to rebuild the cathedral. The more than $700 amassed so far includes a $113 million pledge from French billionaire Francois Henri Pinault and $226 million from fellow billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH group.

The two French businessmen, long considered rivals, are now going tit-for-tat on Notre Dame donations, according to the Associated Press. Arnault, the richest man in all of Europe, is CEO of the world’s biggest luxury group, LVMH, the owner of iconic fashion houses Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. He doubled the amount pledged by Pinault, owner of he world’s second-biggest luxury group, Kering.

French cosmetics company L’Oréal, along with The Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, have said they will donate $226 million as well. Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted that Apple will donate to the rebuilding efforts, but did not specify how much.

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 battling flames for nine hours into the night, firefighters were able to save the landmark’s main stone structure. 

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

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry into the fire would be “long and complex.” Fifty investigators were working on it and would interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations to the cathedral’s roof, where the flames first broke out.

Heitz said an initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m. Monday but no fire was found. The second alert was sounded at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered on the roof.

Notre Dame, the most famous Gothic cathedral from the Middle Ages, was built over a nearly 200-year span beginning in 1163 under King Louis VII. A tourist destination known for its spectacular stained-glass windows, the church has survived the French Revolution, World World I and the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. 

Its many celebrated moments include the crowning of Henry VI in 1431 and the crowning of Napoleon as emperor in 1804 after he had helped save the cathedral from possible demolition.

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. 

“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. 

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

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump offered his condolences to Macron on Tuesday morning on behalf of the American people.  

“We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization. Vive la France!” she said in a statement. 

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 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” and visited by more than 13 million people a year.

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.

All bridges surrounding Notre Dame cathedral in Paris are blocked by police, the AP reports. But tourists and Parisians have continued to cluster closely to the fire-scarred monument, which sits in the middle of an island – the Ile de la Cite – on the Seine River.

Emmanuel Gregoire, the deputy mayor of Paris, told BFMTV on Tuesday that he felt  “enormous relief” at salvaging prized pieces such as the purported Crown of Thorns, which many believe was worn by Jesus Christ. 

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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. 

Alain Juppe, France’s former prime minister, who went inside Notre Dame Tuesday morning to review the damage, said he was impressed with the solidarity that people inside and outside France were showing toward the country. 

“We need to save her,” Juppe said, calling it a “miracle” that many of the artifacts and historic treasures appear to have been preserved. 

Thibault Verny, Paris’ deputy bishop, told USA TODAY that he was feeling “very sad” about what happened but it was a “great moment” for the country to come together.

“On (Easter) Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection,” he said as he walked across the main square in front of the cathedral. “My message will be one of hope and that we need to push ahead.”

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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