Emmanuel Macron said France “will rebuild Notre Dame” after a massive fire at the famed Paris cathedral shocked France Monday evening and prompted the president to postpone a major speech.
Macron had been due to give a televised address to outline measures he plans to take following nationwide public debates held in response to the Yellow Jackets protest movement. Instead, he traveled to the cathedral to inspect the blaze and the efforts of firefighters to bring it under control.
Returning to the site four hours after the fire broke out, a visibly emotional and solemn Macron announced a worldwide fundraising campaign would be launched Tuesday to help rebuild the cathedral.
“It is a terrible tragedy … Notre Dame is the cathedral of all French … [it is] the epicenter of our life,” Macron said, saluting the “extreme courage” of the firefighters who were still battling the fire. Officials said they had managed to save the structure of the cathedral from collapse.
Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo tweetedearly on Tuesday to thank first responders who formed a “formidable human chain to save the works” of Notre Dame. “The crown of thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place,” she said.
The large blaze at the iconic, 850-year-old cathedral is “potentially linked” to renovation works, France Info reported, citing firefighters. The cathedral, which attracts about 13 million visitors a year, has been undergoing renovations. Last week, the cathedral’s famous statues were taken apart to be restored.
Fire alarms went off around 6:30 p.m., shortly after an evening mass started and while between 1,000 to 2,000 people were inside the cathedral, André Finot, the spokesman for the cathedral, told French radio RTL.
Everyone was evacuated safely, and no deaths or injuries of the cathedral-goers have been reported so far, according to officials. Some 500 firefighters were mobilized, one of whom was seriously hurt, according to Reuters.
The cathedral’s frame, built in the 13th century, is nicknamed “the forest” because it is entirely made of wood. In a dramatic moment, the spire went up in flames and collapsed.
The destruction of the cathedral on Holy Monday, which marks the beginning of the Holy Week leading up to Easter celebrations, was a particularly devastating blow to Catholics. “I asked the lord: Why? I think I will get my answer when I reach the heavens … It is apocalyptic,” said Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre Dame.
Firefighters were expected to work until the early morning, cooling the structure and securing the invaluable art that was salvaged, Laurent Nuñez, secretary of state at the interior ministry, told reporters outside the cathedral.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
French civilian security services said in a tweet that air tankers were not appropriate for use in this case because the weight of the water released from the air “could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he is following the fire “minute by minute.”
“Notre-Dame de Paris belongs to all humanity,” he said. “What a sad spectacle. What horror. I share the emotion of the French nation, which is also our own.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said the cathedral was “Notre-Dame of all Europe. We are all with Paris today.”
Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini described the fire as “terrifying.”
“Thoughts and a hug to the people of Paris. From Italy, all our solidarity and all the help we can give,” he tweeted.
The German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said: “It hurts to see these horrible pictures of the burning Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a symbol of France and our European culture. We are with our French friends in our thoughts.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with “the people of France and with the emergency services.”
The archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, tweeted a message to “all the priests of Paris.” He said “Let us pray. If you wish, you can ring the bells of your churches to invite prayer.” Many churches did just that.