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Parisians Say They Are In Great Pain Over Fire Damage To Notre Dame Cathedral


The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is disfigured but still standing after it burned for several hours yesterday. The fire is believed to have started accidentally amid scaffolding erected for a major renovation of its roof. Parisians say they are in great pain over the damage to a cathedral that has kept watch over their city for more than eight centuries. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was at Notre Dame today and sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thousands of Parisians and tourists came out this morning to see the fire's damage by daylight. On a stretch of the Seine River just across from Notre Dame, people took pictures and simply stared in disbelief. Parisian Jean Houssain was among them.

JEAN HOUSSAIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I got up a little earlier this morning so I could stop by and see the cathedral," he says. "I had a visceral need to come see her."

Others voiced regret that maybe they had taken their beautiful Notre Dame for granted, like 18-year-old college student Lucie Lemaire, who says she's heartbroken.

LUCIE LEMAIRE: (Through interpreter) I'm super sad. I passed in front of it all the time, but I didn't really pay attention because it was a part of my daily routine. She's so beautiful. And this is an enormous loss. And it'll never be the same now.

BEARDSLEY: But President Emmanuel Macron told the nation that no matter the setback, France had always come back stronger.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) Throughout our history, we've built cities and ports and churches. And they've been destroyed by wars and revolutions and fire. But we've always rebuilt them. And the fire at Notre Dame reminds us that our history never stops. And we will always have challenges to overcome.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: Last night, thousands of Parisians sang hymns and prayed as more than 400 firefighters risked their lives to save the cathedral. The building's structure, its facade and the two iconic bell towers were preserved. But the roof has been destroyed, and damage to the interior has been massive. Still, some relics were saved. And it looks like the cathedral's 16th century organ has survived said, Michel Aupetit, the Archbishop of Paris.


MICHEL AUPETIT: (Through interpreter) I think it is preserved. Of course, there will be a lot of tuning and repairs to do with the heat it suffered. It'll take some work. But at least it did not go up in smoke.

BEARDSLEY: Although Notre Dame is a Catholic cathedral, Parisians of all faiths and backgrounds embraced it. Taxi driver Bashir Arbouuli brought me to Notre Dame this morning. This Muslim who's, originally from Tunisia, says he can hardly bear to look at Notre Dame today. He says he's always thought of it as more than just a church.

BASHIR ARBOUULI: (Through interpreter) It's not about religion. It's about 800 years of history of France and the whole world, really. It's a symbol that's even stronger than religion.

BEARDSLEY: Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said firefighters and engineers will spend 48 hours securing the structure before anyone is allowed inside. Nunez said it was an extremely close call.


LAURENT NUNEZ: (Through interpreter) A handful of firefighters risked their lives to go up the towers and attack the fire from the inside. And this helped save the edifice. We only realized this morning that we came within about half an hour or even 15 minutes of losing it all.

BEARDSLEY: President Macron spoke for many in France when he pledged to rebuild Notre Dame and make it even more beautiful.


MACRON: (Through interpreter) French citizens and foreigners who love Paris, I want to tell you tonight that I share your pain. But I also share your hope. We have much to do. We will act, and we will succeed. Long live the republic. And long live France.

BEARDSLEY: Restoration experts are already being recruited, and funds are pouring in. The president said France is a nation of builders. And he believes Notre Dame can be fully restored in just five years. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.