May 24, 2019
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Firefighters: Notre Dame fire out, French president pledges reconstruction

Paris, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Paris firefighters tackling a blaze that partially destroyed the city's iconic Notre Dame Cathedral said on Tuesday the flames that ripped through the 850-year-old building had now been extinguished and emergency services were working to ensure that remaining hot spots were fully doused.

While much of the roof was destroyed, firefighters were working with experts to try and retrieve some of the artworks that remain inside the frame, fire services spokesperson Gabriel Plus said.

“The fire has been totally extinguished,” Plus said, adding that around 100 firefighters were still at the scene making sure that embers and hot spots were kept under control and "surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues."

He said one of the main aims had been to preserve the 69-meter (226) North and South Towers, something that was achieved as hundreds of firefighters battled the inferno throughout the night.

The large fire broke out Monday evening and consumed some three-quarters of the lead-covered wooden roof, Culture Minister Franck Riester told journalists.

He said restoration work was being carried out near the base of the cathedral’s spire, a spot that was under investigation as a possible source of the conflagration.

"Nothing points to a voluntary act," said Paris Prosecutor, Rémi Heitz, at a press conference. "We are giving precedence to the accidental route," he added.

"What we do know is there was a first warning at 6.20 pm. No fire was found," Heitz said. "There was a second alert at 6.33 pm and a fire was detected at the level of the roof frame. In the meantime, the church had been evacuated," he added.

He said five contractor companies had been working at the site and statements would be taken from employees.

Some 15 workers had been present at the site late Monday, he said, adding that Paris' police had mobilized 50 investigators to deal with the probe.

The French state, which owns the building, had committed to restoring the church and launched a fund-raising campaign by means of "a great national subscription," so that individuals could contribute funds, Riester said.

“I’d like to say words of comfort and solidarity with the French nation, also as a citizen of Gdansk, 90 percent destroyed and burnt, later rebuilt,” said Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. “You will also rebuild your cathedral,” he added, calling on all 28 member states of the European Union “to take part in this task.”

Riester echoed the pledge made late Monday by French President Emmanuel Macron that the state would assume its responsibility in the reconstruction of the cathedral.

Pope Francis expressed his concern and promised prayers for the cathedral, the Vatican said.

Alessandro Gisotti, the interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, said the pope had expressed his closeness to the people of France.

He said Francis was praying for “all those who are striving to cope with this tragic situation.”

Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said "an international donor conference" should be organized in which experts would be called on to participate and which would also serve to raise additional funds.

Regional President, Valérie Pécresse, said her department would contribute 10 million euros, after noting that "this reconstruction is going to be very expensive and we will dedicate ourselves to it from right now.”

Donations had already started to stream in from late Monday when French billionaire businessman Bernard Arnault’s family and his LVMH luxury goods group said it would contribute 200 million euros ($226 million) to help in the repair work.

“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,” the luxury brand group said in a statement.

Another large donation of 100 million euros was pledged by Francois Henri Pinault, who leads the Kering luxury goods company.

President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Macron, offering Russian experts to help in the restoration project.

Images taken from inside the stricken church showed that while the wooden roof had collapsed, much of the vaulted stone ceiling had held in place, although fire and water damage was clearly visible.

One image showed firefighters looking into the cavernous altar area at the southeastern end of the cathedral where a large crucifix could still be seen in place amid the rubble.

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