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Project To Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral Could Take Decades

8 hours ago
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The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, says he wants fire damage at the Notre Dame Cathedral repaired within five years. Sounds like a long time, although the cathedral took centuries to build in the first place. After the National Cathedral in Washington was damaged by an earthquake in 2011, repairs there took years. For now, Parisians are contemplating the damaged building. And NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is with them.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It's a very changed atmosphere here at Notre Dame tonight on Tuesday. No longer do we see billowing, black clouds coming out of the body and the rooftop of this building, which is a national treasure for the French and also for tourists and people worldwide. It's calmer now. There are still people milling around, looking up to where there used to be a spire that caved in dramatically here at Notre Dame. But this building looks a little forlorn. And people are mourning and grieving. I'm with a gentleman who is a Parisian.

(Speaking French). Your name?

ERIC GOURDOU: Eric Gourdou. (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: You live just 200 yards from Notre Dame, overlooking the cathedral. So you're part of this community.

GOURDOU: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Eric Gourdou says Notre Dame Cathedral has been his landmark in Paris for the 20-plus years he's been living near the cathedral. "I see Notre Dame every day - on the way to work or going out, on my way back home," he says, "every day. When people ask where I live, I just describe the cathedral." And as a child and young man, says Gourdou, sadly, he spent much time here, too. "People have been crying here, standing outside, looking up at this cathedral," he says.

GOURDOU: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "Believe me - this is a body blow. I feel wounded to the bottom of my heart, deeply wounded by the fact that Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames," says Gourdou.

And that emotional rollercoaster - shock and dismay - are feelings reflected among the many Parisians and others, including tourists like Marcia and Christopher Horton, who are in Paris for the first time from Atlanta, Ga.

CHRISTOPHER HORTON: This is a - this is very sad.

MARCIA HORTON: It is.

C HORTON: Very, very, very sad. We particular came here to see this historical...

M HORTON: A beautiful monument.

C HORTON: Because this is a part of history here. So just to come in to see what occurred is heartbreaking.

QUIST-ARCTON: You're looking at Notre Dame Cathedral now minus its spire. How do you feel?

M HORTON: Sad - but do we know how it happened?

QUIST-ARCTON: Those are the questions the French authorities and many others are grappling with - assessing the fire damage to Notre Dame and how to stabilize the building and restore it to its former glory. President Emmanuel Macron, who has been facing a political and social storm in France for months, addressed the nation last night. Macron pledged to rebuild and restore Notre Dame and says he wants it done within five years. Rallying the French, he reminded them that France has faced such setbacks in the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "In years gone by, when our churches and cities were destroyed by wars and revolution," says President Macron, "we always rebuilt them." He also said, "It's up to the French to transform the disaster of the Notre Dame fire into an opportunity to come together and be even better than before."

Some are skeptical about his short timeline but appreciate the spirit of hope.

CARMEN PEREZ DEL VISO: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "At least we have hope," says a sorrowful Carmen Perez del Viso, who is originally from Argentina and is living in Paris. But she says she's overwrought by what's happened to this grande dame. "We feel wounded to the bottom of our hearts," she says. "This cathedral is like a grandmother to us - a grandmother who's been hurt. And that goes for everyone," she says.

PEREZ DEL VISO: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "For me, this is a nightmare," says Perez del Viso. She says she didn't have the courage to come to the cathedral Monday when flames were shooting into the sky and dark clouds of smoke billowing. Now she's here making a pilgrimage - "to pay homage and to honor Notre Dame," she says, "to tell the cathedral, we love you. We adore you. And you are very much a part of us."

Bells will ring out at churches across France at 10 to 7 this evening, the exact time Notre Dame went up in flames Monday night. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.