A major fire has engulfed the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, one of France’s most famous landmarks.
The 850-year-old Gothic building’s spire and roof have collapsed but the main structure, including the two bell towers, has been saved, the BBC reported on Tuesday citing officials.
Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze as teams are trying to salvage the artwork stored inside.
President Emmanuel Macron called it a “terrible tragedy”. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.
But officials say it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire”.
Visiting the scene, Macron said the “worst had been avoided” and that an international fundraising scheme to rebuild the cathedral would be launched.
The fire began early on Monday evening and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.
Firefighters worked for hours to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing.
But the main structure had been “saved and preserved” from total destruction, Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said.
Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the cathedral had suffered “colossal damages”, and teams were working to save the cathedral’s remaining valuable artwork.
Speaking to French broadcaster BFMTV, historian Camille Pascal said “invaluable heritage” had been destroyed, adding: “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see”.
Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.
Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze.
Macron, who cancelled an address to the nation because of the fire, said the cathedral was a building “for all French people”, including those who had never been there.
“We will rebuild Notre Dame together”, he said as he praised the “extreme courage” and “professionalism” of the firefighters.