€600m has been raised to help restore fire-damaged Notre Dame cathedral
France's three wealthiest families are leading fundraising efforts to restore the Notre Dame cathedral, after a massive fire inflicted devastating damage. The inferno began on Monday afternoon and raged for twelve hours, toppling the iconic 300-foot spire. It also destroyed the medieval roof structure known as "the forest," because it took a literal forest of trees to build.
Officials feared the fire would engulf the entire 850-year-old structure, but fortunately the twin bell towers were saved, thanks for the work of 500 firefighters. They also managed to save several priceless religious treasures, such as the Crown of Thorns, which is believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ on the cross. "The works of art, the most precious treasures were secured last night," Culture Minister Franck Riester told reporters, per WKYT.
Watch the heartbreaking moment the Notre Dame spire collapses:
In wake of the disaster, French billionaire François-Henri Pinault donated €100m ($113 million). Pinault is the chief executive of the Kering Group, which owns fashion brands Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and is married to actress Salma Hayek. "This tragedy strikes all the French and beyond all those who are attached to spiritual values" said Pinault. "Faced with such a tragedy, everyone wants to revive this jewel of our heritage as quickly as possible."
Shorty afterwards, France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, who is the chief executive of luxury giant LVMH, pledged €200m ($226 million) to reconstruct the "symbol of France." A further €200m ($226 million) was pledged by the Bettencourt Meyers family, who owns the French luxury and cosmetics group L'Oreal. With the French gas company Total chipping in €100m ($113 million), that brings the grand total of funding to €600m, in less than 24 hours.
In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron announced an international fundraising campaign to rebuild the cathedral. "I’m telling you all tonight - we will rebuild this cathedral together," said Macron. "This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders."
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters on Tuesday that the fire was likely not started on purpose. "We are favoring the theory of an accident," Heitz told reporters, per Reuters. He added that the inquiry into the fire's cause would be "long and complex," with fifty investigators questioning workers from five companies hired to do renovations on the cathedral's roof.
One firefighter was "seriously injured" while fighting the blaze, according to French officials.