‘On our watch we let it burn’: Notre Dame fire leaves hole in heart of Paris
Parisians feel anger and shame that centuries-old cathedral has been damaged in their lifetime
Hours after the last flames had died down, Notre Dame stood defiant, charred and roofless in the daylight. The huge wooden doors were open as firefighters continued to secure the building, hinting at the dangers and weaknesses that may still lie within.
Inside, beneath a gaping hole above the choir area where the burning spire had crashed down on Monday night, lay rubble, shards of glass, and twisted metal, but the altar and gleaming cross were still standing. It felt like I was looking at a bombing, said Philippe Marsset, the vicar general of Notre Dame, one of the first to enter to survey the damage.
The cathedral square, usually heaving with tourists brandishing selfie sticks, was cordoned off, eerily silent and deserted, its paving stones peppered with flecks of black ash.
On the edge of the River Seine, where the gothic architectural masterpiece sits proudly on an island, locals were still coming to terms with the fear and panic of the night before, when fire had raged across the roof, believed to have been started accidentally possibly as a result of building work.
From the moment the first flames became visible, hundreds had run down to the river shouting Notre Dame is burning! Then, for hours, stunned crowds looked on as flames soared into the sky and the spire and most of the roof gradually caved in.
Crowds sang church liturgies, many wept, some fell to their knees in grief, and most gasped and wailed at each loud crackle as the spire was engulfed in flames. In a city that has endured years of terrorist killings, waking to bloodstains on the street, there was relief that no one had been killed.
Some said they felt anger and a sense of shame. Think of the all people who built it over centuries, and on our watch we let it burn, said an older woman with a walking cane, wiping her eyes.