Millions in Notre-Dame Donations Pour In as France Focuses on Rebuilding  04/17/2019 16:33:07   Aurelien Breeden
The Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Wednesday morning. President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants the Gothic landmark rebuilt within five years.CreditCreditBenoit Tessier/Reuters

PARIS  Days after a fire tore through Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France on Wednesday started to focus on reconstruction, with President Emmanuel Macron having set the ambitious goal of rebuilding the Gothic landmark within five years and donations pouring in from around the world.

Prime Minister �douard Philippe said after a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the government would organize an international architecture competition to design a spire after Notre-Dames own collapsed in the fire on Monday and crashed through the cathedrals vaulted ceiling. But he said it remained uncertain whether the lost spire  which was added in the 19th century  would be replaced.

He added that the five-year goal to rebuilt the cathedral was obviously an immense challenge, but also a historical responsibility.

Individuals, companies and institutions have so far donated or pledged 845 million euros, about $950 million, to rebuild the damaged cathedral, which has stood for more than eight centuries. On Tuesday, the government set up an online portal pointing to four official organizations and foundations that are collecting donations.

Each euro that is given for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame will be used for that, and nothing else, Mr. Philippe said.

Next week, the government was scheduled to present a bill to give the donation campaign a legal framework, which would ensure security and transparency, Mr. Philippe said. The legislation would also create tax deductions for French citizens who contribute less than �1,000 to the reconstruction effort.

Individuals, companies and institutions have already donated or pledged hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the cathedral.CreditChristophe Ena/Associated Press

Mr. Philippe also said that the relics and artwork that firefighters had scrambled to save from the fire were transferred to the Louvre museum from Paris City Hall, where emergency workers had placed them for safekeeping in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Paris firefighters also said artwork that remained in the cathedral appeared surprisingly well preserved.

At 6:50 p.m. on Wednesday, cathedrals in France tolled their bells in honor of the burned cathedral, a calamity that has shocked much of the world. The Paris authorities also announced that a ceremony would be organized on Thursday, during which two large banners paying tribute to Notre-Dame and to those who fought to save it would be hung from City Hall, and excerpts from Victor Hugos Notre-Dame de Paris would be read.

Investigators were questioning witnesses in order to determine the origin of the fire, which caused minor injuries to three people. R�my Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, said that the investigation would be long and complex. But it was clear that little was in place to prevent the flames from coursing through the cathedrals attic, a lattice of ancient wooden beams underneath a lead-covered roof.

Firefighters said at a news conference on Wednesday that they had always known the lattice was at risk. Philippe Demay, a deputy fire chief who was among the first to arrive at the cathedral on Monday, said that firefighters knew perfectly well that if the roof caught fire, it was going to be very complicated to stop.

Mr. Demay said that he had arrived at the site in less than three minutes, as the area around the cathedral was bustling with thousands of tourists, and that he and his colleagues had to quickly trudge up the cathedrals narrow spiraling staircases with heavy equipment in tow  an exercise they had done many times before.

Myriam Chudzinski, another firefighter, said that once they got to the top, it was clear that the flames had already spread.

It was very, very hot; we had to back up, she said.

On Wednesday, the police continued to block access to the cathedral and to the area around it on the �le de la Cit�, one of the islands in the Seine that lie at the heart of Paris. Tourists and Parisians alike pressed against police barricades along the river, snapping pictures of the beloved symbol of the city, now roofless, and pointing to a cluster of firefighters atop one of the cathedrals towers.

Prime Minister �douard Philippe, center, said the five-year rebuilding goal was obviously an immense challenge, but also a historical responsibility.CreditLudovic Marin/Agence France-Presse, via Associated Press

Notre-Dame cathedral, one of the most recognizable structures in Paris, lost most its roof, large parts of its interior stone ceiling and some interior furnishings to the fire. Paris firefighters noted that the whole cathedral came close to being destroyed.

Jos� Vaz de Matos, a firefighter who works with the Culture Ministry to help secure buildings and artwork, said that if the fire had reached the cathedrals towers and the wooden belfries inside them, a catastrophic chain reaction would have ensued because the towers help support the whole building.

If the fire had reached that wooden structure, the belfry was lost, Mr. Vaz de Matos said. And from the moment you lose the belfry, you lose the cathedral.

Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for the Paris fire brigade, said at the news conference on Wednesday that about 60 firefighters were still at the cathedral to monitor the structure and to help the police and building experts navigate the building.

Firefighters identified several remaining risks in the building, he said: the gables, which were no longer supported by the roofs woodwork and could be toppled by strong winds, and the metal scaffolding previously meant for renovation work, which was deformed by the fire and has to be removed. The vaulted stone ceiling was also covered with melted lead from the destroyed roof, he said, creating a potentially dangerous source of heat.

Mr. Macrons plan to rebuild the cathedral within five years has prompted debate about how Notre-Dame should be restored  identical to its older self, with similar materials, or in a newer fashion, with modern techniques?

Isabelle Backouche, a historian at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris who specializes in urban history, said in an interview that she would not be shocked if reconstruction were done according to modern plans.

Each era copies what was done before and at the same time adds its own inventions, she said, noting that parts of the cathedral  the world-famous chimeras, for instance  were 19th-century additions or renovations.

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @aurelienbrd.

Constant Meheut and Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

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