The Paris Fire Brigade said Tuesday the structure of the famed Notre Dame cathedral has been saved, along with the site’s main works of art, after 400 firefighters spent more than nine hours battling a fire that caused massive damage.
The building’s two iconic towers and stone structure were standing Tuesday, but absent were the 12th-century cathedral’s roof and spire, which collapsed in the blaze.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked firefighters and police officers for helping to save holy objects and major works of art from the cathedral.
She said Notre Dame is a place where “the soul of Paris resonates.”
The fire brigade said two policemen and one firefighter were injured during the effort to put out the fire.
“The worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not been totally won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the cathedral shortly before midnight local time. He said he would launch a national fundraising campaign to rebuild the cathedral, and called on the world’s “greatest talents” to help with the effort.
Hours later, French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault pledged $113 million to help the reconstruction effort, followed shortly by another French billionaire Bernard Arnault saying his family and company would contribute $226 million.
It is not clear what caused the blaze, although French media reported that fire officials said the blaze could be “potentially linked” to renovation work being done at the building.
Several sections of the building had been under scaffolding and officials say bronze statues were removed last week for the renovation.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire and said it was treating the blaze as an “involuntary” fire.
The Vatican released a statement expressing shock and sadness and called Notre Dame a “symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”
The fire came during Catholic Holy Week commemorations, and less than a week before Easter. An Easter Mass had been planned at the cathedral on Sunday.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers.
Firefighters in Paris evacuated buildings nearby Notre Dame and cleared the area around the cathedral as ash fell over the surrounding blocks.
Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the River Seine late into the night to watch the scene and others gathered at the nearby Saint Julien Les Pauvres church to sing hymns and say prayers.
The medieval Catholic cathedral is one of the most visited historical monuments in Europe, welcoming millions of people each year. It is famous for featuring in Victor Hugo’s classic novel, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”
Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine, the building is known for its stone gargoyles, stained glass windows and the iconic flying buttresses that hold up its walls.