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'Paris is disfigured': Tears and shock as Notre-Dame burns

AFP logoAFP 6 days ago afp.com

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Video by NBC News

Crowds of stunned Parisians and tourists -- some crying, others offering prayers -- watched on in horror in central Paris on Monday evening as flames engulfed the Notre-Dame cathedral.

Gasps and cries of "Oh my god" erupted at 7:50 pm (1750 GMT) when the top portion of the church's spire came crashing down into an inferno that has spread to the entire roof.

More gasps came a few seconds later when the rest of the spire collapsed, caught on the cameras of thousands of mobile phones.

a man with smoke coming out of it: Anxious passersby watched the landmark cathedral burn © Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT Anxious passersby watched the landmark cathedral burn "Paris is disfigured. The city will never be like it was before," said Philippe, a communications worker in his mid-30s, who had biked over after being alerted of the fire by a friend.

"It's a tragedy," he added. "If you pray, now is the time to pray."

Police were attempting to clear pedestrians away from the two islands in the river Seine, including the Ile de la Cite which houses the soaring Gothic church, one of Europe's best known landmarks.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Bystanders looked on as flames and smoke billowed from Notre-Dame © Patrick ANIDJAR Bystanders looked on as flames and smoke billowed from Notre-Dame

But throngs of onlookers kept trying to approach, snarling traffic as they massed on the stone bridges leading to the islands.

Another woman passed by, tears running from behind her glasses, too overwhelmed to speak to reporters.

"It's finished, we'll never be able to see it again," said Jerome Fautrey, a 37-year-old who had come to watch.

"Now we need to know how this happened -- with everything that's going on in the world, why Notre-Dame? Maybe it's a message from on high," he said.

Slideshow by photo services

One police officer, arriving on one of the bridges, turned up to gape, saying "Oh my god."

"It's incredible, our history is going up in smoke," said Benoit, 42, who arrived on the scene by bike.

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