PARIS (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Tuesday (April 16) to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral "within five years", after a fire that toppled the steeple of the 850-year-old landmark and caused major damage to the roof.
"We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years," Mr Macron said in a televised address to the nation a day after the blaze. "And we can do it."
But he also warned: "Let us not fall into the trap of haste."
Mr Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country that has been riven with divisions.
"What we saw last night in Paris was our capacity to mobilise and to unite," the 41-year-old leader said in the solemn address from his office in the presidential palace.
France had, over the course of its history, seen many towns, ports and churches go up in flames, he said.
"Each time we rebuilt them," he said, adding that the cathedral inferno had shown that "our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome".
He visited the site of the fire late on Monday and promised then to rebuild the cathedral, parts of which date to the 12th century.
The cathedral spire was destroyed and its roof gutted, but the bell towers are still standing and many valuable art works were saved after more than 400 firemen worked to contain the blaze, finally quelling it 14 hours after it began.
As the city and the country grieved for a potent national symbol, billionaires, companies and local authorities were quick to offer donations.
Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than €750 million (S$1.14 billion) had been pledged, including €500 million from the three billionaire families that own France’s giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L’Oreal.
Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation, officials said.
The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral’s oak roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire’s timber-framed supports.
Police began questioning the workers involved, the prosecutor’s office said.
One firefighter was injured but no one else was hurt, with the fire starting at around 6.30pm after the building was closed to the public for the evening.
Firefighters examined the facade, with its spectacular 10m filigreed stained-glass rose window still intact. They could be seen walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.
Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral’s blackened nave until experts are satisfied its walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.
“Yesterday, we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning, she is still standing, valiant, despite everything,” said Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who had hurried to a nearby church to pray as the flames spread.