AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Spire of Notre Dame Cathedral has been part of the Parisian skyline for centuries. Today it fell while engulfed in flames. The world stopped to watch the images.
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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: At this point, the damage is catastrophic. There is yellow smoke...
UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: Know that much of a wooden interior of this 12th century landmark is burning and also likely to be...
UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #3: We're hearing people - Parisians, but also tourists - getting off buses, just standing, staring and crying and weeping and looking at - it went up like a torch.
CHANG: Within sight of the cathedral, people gathered to sing and pray.
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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in French).
CHANG: We begin our coverage this hour with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's in Paris. Hey, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So what does the Notre Dame look like right now?
BEARDSLEY: Well, it looks like the fire is out. There's still water shooting up onto the dark church. Now it's nighttime here. And it - the good news is the structure has been saved, the two towers and the facade, says the fire chief. The fire burned for about five hours, and it's still cooling. He says that they're going to be working all night still trying to get artworks out in the smoke and in the falling pieces.
CHANG: Now, this is a cathedral that has been through so much over the centuries. It withstood the French Revolution, two world wars. What are people in Paris saying now as they're taking in what happened today?
BEARDSLEY: Well, it was a surreal scene out there. Thousands of people were on the banks of the Seine River right across from Notre Dame, and that's where I was. People were singing, some were praying, some were kneeling. But everyone was just watching it burn with a stricken look on their face. It was sort of as people were sad and panicked as the flames just would not go out and sometimes appeared to get even bigger. A lot of Parisians were too shaken up to talk to me, but I did speak to 22-year-old Eleanor Mark (ph), and here's what she says.
ELEANOR MARK: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: She says, you know, she's sad. And she says it's a thousand years of history going up in a few hours. She's an architecture student. And she says they studied that cathedral. She knew it very intimately. And she said, it's just terrible to see it go in front of our eyes like this.
CHANG: Now that the fire is under control, what are officials there saying about the scope of the damage and the path forward on how to fix it?
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, exactly. Well, the scope of the damage is massive. The roof is said to be just completely gone. An investigation has been opened by the Paris prosecutor. And, you know, President Macron, he came out to that - to the cathedral tonight. He was supposed to give an important political speech on television. He canceled that. And here he is speaking out in front of Notre Dame.
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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: So he says, you know, Notre Dame is our history, our literature. It's the place where we've lived all of our big moments - our wars, our epidemics, our liberation. He says, it's the epicenter of our life, and together, we're going to rebuild it. He says, that's France's destiny now - to work on Notre Dame together, to come together and rebuild it, and to call on the most talented people to do so.
CHANG: Now, have authorities shared any details so far about how they think this happened, what caused this? Are they investigating? I'm assuming they are.
BEARDSLEY: Yeah. There's an investigation being opened. And I haven't heard officially, but the French media is saying that there is, you know, there was renovation going on near the roof by the ceiling. There was a lot of scaffolding there. And they say that's where the fire broke out. And there was so much, you know, wood and timber in there hundreds of years old. And they say it was, you know, dried and cured and waxed. And it may have been that wood along the ceiling where the fire started. But we'll find out, Ailsa.
CHANG: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thank you very much, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.