Paris, April 16 (IANS) Hundreds of millions of euros have been pledged to help rebuild the partially destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral, the 850-year-old Unesco world heritage, as a fire that ripped through the Paris landmark was extinguished on Tuesday.
The fire could be extinguished some 15 hours after it began on Monday evening, but emergency services said they were still working to douse the hot spots.
“The fire has been extinguished,” fire services spokesperson Gabriel Plus said, adding around 100 fire-fighters were still at the scene making sure that embers and hot spots were under control and “surveying the movement of structures and extinguishing smouldering residues”.
The blaze ravaged the iconic building’s roof and caused the collapse of the Cathedral’s spectacular Gothic spire and the destruction of its roof structure. However, the fire-fighters who worked through the night managed to save the Paris landmark’s main stone structure, including its two towers.
Though the cause of the fire was not yet clear, officials believe it could be linked to extensive renovation works. The Paris prosecutor’s office said it was currently being investigated as an accident.
While French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to reconstruct the historic building, two French business magnates have pledged about 300 million euros. Offers of help with the reconstruction also poured in from around the globe, with European Council President Donald Tusk calling on EU member states to rally round.
“I’d like to say words of comfort and solidarity with the French nation, also as a citizen of Gdansk, 90 per cent destroyed and burnt, later rebuilt,” said Tusk. “You will also rebuild your cathedral,” he added, calling on all 28 member states of the EU “to take part in this task.”
Macron described the blaze as a “terrible tragedy” and pledged to raise funds worldwide. “Notre Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives. I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city would make 50 million euros available and propose holding an international donors’ conference to coordinate the pledges to restore the building.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would donate 200 million euros for the reconstruction efforts. The pledge came after the rival fashion group Kering, founded by the billionaire Francois Pinault, offered 100 million euros to help “completely rebuild Notre Dame”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Macron, offering Russian experts to help in the restoration project.
The UN’s Paris-based cultural agency Unesco also promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the site, which it declared a world heritage site in 1991. “We are in contact with experts and ready to dispatch an urgent mission to evaluate the damage,” Unesco’s Secretary General Audrey Azoulay said.
The 12th-century Cathedral’s iconic facade and towers were salvaged, as were a host of invaluable artefacts and works of art stored inside, including the Holy Crown, believed by many to be from the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus Christ.
A tunic, which King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris, was also saved.
The Vatican said the Holy See learned with “shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world”.
US President Donald Trump termed it a “terrible, terrible fire”, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Notre Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: “My thoughts are with the people of France and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre Dame cathedral.”
The Notre Dame’s foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III and the Cathedral was completed in the 13th century. It is one of Paris’ most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year.