A colossal fire swept through the 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark, Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris yesterday, causing the Gothic spire to collapse and threatening to destroy the entire masterpiece and its precious artworks.
The fire, which began in the early evening, sent flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky as stunned Parisians and tourists watched on in sheer horror.
Saddest thing ever watched in my life, said an onlooker
Some were in tears, others offered prayers from the banks of the river Seine as the much-loved attraction at the heart of the City of Lights was consumed by the inferno.
"This is really sad, the saddest thing I've ever stood and watched in my life," said British tourist Sam Ogden, a 50-year-old onlooker, who had come to visit the cathedral with her family.
About 400 firefighters managed to control fire by today
Gasps and cries of "Oh my god" erupted around an hour after the fire first broke out when the top portion of the church's spire came crashing down.
"It looked tiny, then within an hour it all came down," Ogden added.
Around 400 firefighters battled into the night to control the flames, declaring in the early hours today that the fire was under control.
Fire service blames restoration work for the blaze
The cause of the blaze was not immediately confirmed but the fire service blames the intense restoration work that had been undergoing at the cathedral.
Last week, dramatic footage had shown workers removing 16 copper statues from the spire, which was undergoing a revamp financed by the state and private donors.
However, French prosecutors said the blaze was currently being treated as an accident.
Workers scrambling to save all the artwork: Deputy Paris mayor
Speaking to the media, Deputy Paris mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the spire "collapsed inwards" and that workers were scrambling "to save all the artworks that can be saved."
A spokesman for the cathedral said that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. "Everything is burning," the spokesman for Notre-Dame, Andre Finot, told AFP.
President Macron vows to rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral
French President Emmanuel Macron canceled a major televised policy speech over the "terrible fire ravaging Notre-Dame" and headed to the scene in person.
He vowed to rebuild the cathedral.
"We'll rebuild Notre-Dame because it's what the French expect," said the President, describing Notre-Dame as "the epicenter of our life" and the cathedral of "all the French", whether religious or not.
Sad to see part of us burning, said Macron
Notre-Dame is aflame. Great emotion for the whole nation. Our thoughts go out to all Catholics and to the French people. Like all of my fellow citizens, I am sad to see this part of us burn tonight. https://t.co/27CrJgJkJb
There was no immediate indication of any casualties
Despite the intensity of the blaze, there was no immediate indication of any casualties.
"The Paris fire service is trying to control the flames," Paris's Mayor Anne Hidalgo wrote on Twitter, asking residents to respect the security cordon thrown up around the site.
A cathedral spokesperson said the fire, which comes as French Catholics prepare to celebrate Easter, broke out at around 1650 GMT.
"Horrible" to watch the fire, said US President Trump
Hundreds of people gathered on the bridges of Paris downriver to witness the scene, many filming the images with their smartphones. US President Donald Trump, in a tweet, reacted, "So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris...Must act quickly!"
'Flying water tankers could be used to put fire out'
So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!
Cathedral's construction was completed after some 200 years of work
The cathedral was located at the center of the French capital in the Middle Ages and its construction was completed in the mid-12th century after some 200 years of work.
During the French Revolution in the 18th century, the cathedral was vandalized during widespread anti-Catholic violence.
Its spire was dismantled, its treasures plundered and its large statues at the grand entrance doors were destroyed.
The restoration work was led by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc
The cathedral was featured as a central character in a Victor Hugo novel published in 1831, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" and shortly afterward, a restoration project lasting two decades got underway, led by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral survived both the world wars
The Notre-Dame Cathedral survived the devastation of two world conflicts in the 20th century and famously rang its bells on August 24, 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris from German occupation at the end of the WWII.
The United Nations' cultural agency said yesterday that it "stood at France's side to save and restore" Notre-Dame Cathedral, "a priceless heritage."
Notre-Dame was added to UNESCO's world heritage list in 1991
Audrey Azoulay, secretary general of UNESCO, said the agency was monitoring the effort to put out the blaze, which consumed the iconic church's spire as flames spread across the roof. Notre-Dame was added to UNESCO's world heritage list in 1991, Azoulay added in a tweet.