French investigators yesterday interviewed construction workers involved in renovation work at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral as they sought to identify the source of a devastating blaze at the monument that has sent shockwaves through France and the world.
Donations and offers of help began to pour in as day broke over the City of Light, revealing the extent of the damage from Monday night’s inferno, which took about 15 hours to extinguish.
“All night long I saw men going past with tears in their eyes. I described it this way: It was total chaos, but we can’t let it knock us down,” Notre-Dame vicar general Philippe Marsset said.
Most of the roof has been destroyed, the steeple has collapsed, and an unknown number of artifacts and paintings have been lost, but the walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows remain intact.
About 400 firefighters battled through the night to control the flames and the last remnants of the inferno were extinguished at about 10am yesterday.
Ongoing renovation work is widely suspected to have caused the fire after the blaze broke out in an area below scaffolding.
Investigators interviewed witnesses overnight and began speaking to the employees of five different construction companies that were working on the monument, public prosecutor Remy Heitz said.
“Nothing indicates this was a voluntary act,” Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to the case.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Monday night visited the scene with his wife, Brigitte, told reporters: “We will rebuild Notre-Dame, because it is what the French expect.”
He described the cathedral as the “epicenter of our life.”
A public appeal for funds drew immediate support from French billionaires and other private donors, as well other nations, including Germany, Italy and Russia, which offered to lend their expertise.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would give 200 million euros (US$226 million), after luxury rival Kering offered 100 million euros.
Specialized craftsmen and rare materials are also expected to be needed to restore the monument, seen as symbol of Western civilization and an emblem of France that has survived revolutions and wars.
A French wood company in Murlin, France, offered to put its loggers to work immediately for the oak beams that would be needed to rebuild the vaulted roof of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The work will surely take years, decades even, but it will require thousands of cubic meters of wood,” Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group told France Inter radio.
The privately run French Heritage Foundation launched a call for donations on its Web site — www.fondation-patrimoine.org — while several pages were set up on the Leetchi fundraising portal.
“We have everything to be able to rebuild it in exactly the same way,” French Minister of Culture Franck Riester told France Inter, adding that the government was looking at ways to encourage donations.
Thousands of Parisians and tourists had watched in horror from nearby streets on Monday night as flames engulfed the building and officials tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s countless treasures, built up over centuries.
The inferno destroyed two-thirds of the roof of the 850-year-old landmark, whose spectacular Gothic spire collapsed as orange flames and clouds of gray smoke billowed into the evening sky.
One firefighter sustained injuries during the blaze, which at one point threatened to bring down one of the two monumental towers on the western facade of the cathedral that is visited by about 13 million tourists each year.
Riester warned that the structure remained unstable and that no one had yet been able to fully inspect the extent of the fire and water damage inside.
“We’ll have to wait for a while to do a full inventory,” he said.
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