Notre Dame towers saved, but cathedral suffers ‘colossal damage,' says French official

Notre Dame towers saved, but cathedral suffers ‘colossal damage,' says French official

Notre Dame cathedral, the 850-year-old structure regarded as the beating heart of Paris, has been partially saved by firefighters after a devastating fire toppled its iconic 300-foot spire. "The fire is now weaker," said Laurent Nunez, secretary to the interior minister, per CNN. "We are now in a time of cooling but both towers of the cathedral are safe. We're still working to save the cathedral's work of arts."

Notre Dame cathedral spokesperson Andre Finot told French media that the medieval marvel sustained "colossal damage." Earlier, he worried the monument might be completely destroyed. "Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame," Finot said, according to The Associated PressBloomberg News and CBC. However, quick-thinking firefighters have managed to save the two main towers, preventing another gut-wrenching collapse.

Watch the heartbreaking moment the Notre Dame spire collapses:

Jean-Claude Gallet, commander general of the Paris Fire Brigade, told reporters that two-thirds of the roof has been destroyed and one firefighter was seriously injured. No deaths or additional injuries have been reported, as of this writing.

The damage includes the loss of the medieval roof structure known as "the forest." "The framework from the 13th century is called a forest, because it required a forest of trees to build it," said Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, the rector of the cathedral.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but is thought to be linked to recent renovation work. A Paris prosecutor has launched an investigation into the  "involuntary destruction by fire," according to a cathedral spokesperson.

The blaze reportedly began in an attic at 5.50pm (GMT) on Monday afternoon. At the time the alarm went off, visitors were celebrating Mass for Holy Week, and officials quickly ushered them out of the building. In less than an hour, the flames spread to the roof, and footage of the catastrophe went viral on social media.

"These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn," Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant and former New York City fire chief told The New York Times. "If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned."

Notre Dame spire collapses in fire Credit: Getty

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he is launching 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."

Notre Dame cathedral, a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, is one of Paris' biggest tourist attractions. It was immortalized in popular culture with Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, which Disney adapted into a blockbuster animated movie in 1996. The church's construction was completed in 1260, though it has been modified frequently over the centuries.

"So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris," tweeted US President Donald Trump. "Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly! ... God bless the people of France!"

"Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief," tweeted former US President Barack Obama. "It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can."

"For centuries, Notre Dame Cathedral has withstood wars, revolutions, and the test of time," tweeted former US Vice President Joe Biden. "It is a symbol of faith & a testament to history. And even as our hearts break to see it burn today during the holiest week of the year for Catholics, I have faith that it will rise again."

As the building burns, a crowd has gathered outside, singing hymns. Our thoughts are with those in Paris at this time.