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People line the streets of Paris near Notre Dame Cathedral to sing prayers after the devastating fire.
USA TODAY

PARIS — A massive fundraising campaign was being launched Tuesday to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral, hours after a massive fire engulfed the iconic 800-year-old house of worship in the French capital.

The Paris Fire Service announced on Twitter that firefighters “came to grips with” the blaze early Tuesday, more than nine hours after they began the effort. It said nearly 400 firefighters had battled the inferno, and two policemen and one firefighter had been slightly injured. 

Paris firefighters spokesman Gabriel Plus said “the entire fire is out” and that emergency services were “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues,” according to media reports.

“The worst has been avoided, although the battle is not yet totally won,” said French President Emmanuel Macron who rushed to the scene of the blaze Monday. Announcing the fundraising effort, he vowed to reconstruct the church. 

“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years,” said Macron.

French billionaire Francois Henri Pinault pledged $113 million towards reconstructing the cathedral, while fellow billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH group pledged $226 million.

“The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” their statement said Tuesday.

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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.

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The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its rectangular towers in a spectacle watched by throngs of horrified spectators. However 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. Gallet said the emergency response had evolved into a monitoring and clean-up operation. 

Salvage efforts had been underway to recover precious artifacts, and city prosecutors announced they were opening an investigation. Arson was ruled out as well as possible terror-related motives, officials said. Officials said the blaze could be linked to renovation work. The cathedral was in the midst of a $6.8 million renovation project.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a tweet that historically significant artifacts and sacred items were saved from the fire.

“Thanks to the @PompiersParis, the police and the municipal agents,” Hidalgo tweeted, “the Crown of Thorns, the Tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place.”

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The damage to the building, however, was extensive. “Two-thirds of the roofing has been ravaged,” Gallet said.

It 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. 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.”

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

Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara in London

More: 850-year-old Notre Dame survived the French Revolution. Here are 4 other things to know

 

 

 

 

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