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Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Fire. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 15, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The smoke is getting thicker and thicker. You can see it's quite a state of yellow color. It's begun much less thick and now it's getting thicker now. You can see the flames also just coming out of the top of the roof. A sense of relief really as everyone watches Notre Dame Cathedral go up in flames. Extraordinary scenes here in Paris, around the cathedral that is on fire and burning, for the time being, controllably. You can hear the fire engines and see the security services forces trying to make their way to the cathedral as I speak. All around, the roads are blocked. Of course, rush hour in Paris. At the time being, the flames appear to be taking hold of the cathedral unchecked.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And you're saying -- and I can hear some sirens behind you -- but fire department has not yet been even able to get on scene. Is that what you're saying?

BELL: I suspect some might have made it close enough to the building. But for the time being, you can see from the amount of smoke billowing out, it doesn't appear that the flames have been contained in any way. On the contrary, the smoke getting thicker and more of it is pouring out as every minute passes. Inside, a little earlier, you can see on those pictures that began to flood in on social media because these were quite shocking seines. These are quite shocking scenes. The flames are clearly burning through the top of the roof. From where I'm sitting, you can see very thick black smoke that is also coming through the back of the spire there through the top of the roof. And, so, no, the time being, the flames appear to be engulfing it unchecked. And really a sense of astonishment from the crowds here as they watch this unfold.

There hasn't been time really for these security -- for the fire department to get close enough to it and try to bring it under control, so what we're watching is an unfolding catastrophe. Clearly, they are trying to get there as fast as they can. They have asked people to stay away and give them safe passage towards the building. But you can imagine, even now looking at the quantities of smoke that are coming out, looking at size of the flames, that the damage to this extraordinary historic building, and whatever else happens tonight, you can be sure, very substantial.

KEILAR: We can see some scaffolding. Give us a sense, Melissa, of where this is. This appears to be behind the facade, right, maybe towards -- a little towards the rear of the church, and we can see the spire there. The roof beneath it and the spire itself engulfed in flames.

BELL: That's right. You have the very famous front part of Notre Dame that is world famous, that people come from all over the world to see. And it is just behind that and the main structure of the building behind those two front towers and the roof towards the back of the building, that's where the flames appear to be coming from. And that smoke now really covering a huge part of the islands on which Notre Dame Cathedral sits. It's one of the two little islands that sit in the middle of the Seine in the very historic heart of Paris. And the smoke has now covered a fair amount of the buildings that are on it. Black smoke has begun - I'll show you -- it's very thick, and it's coming out all the time thicker and thick. And really people are holding their mouths and looking on in disbelief. They can't quite believe what they are seeing. There's a helicopter flying overhead and you can hear the sirens since the fire engines tried to get closer. The question will be how much damage has been done and how much can be saved and, of course, crucially, how did this begin?

KEILAR: How did this begin. We'll want to know. We see the outside of the cathedral right now. We do not know what the inside looks like, right, so there's an entire -- this could be part of the damage.

I do want to relay, Melissa, that the mayor of Paris says the fire brigade is trying to control a terrible fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame. On Twitter she says, "A terrible fire is under way at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire brigades are trying to control the fire. We're mobilized locally and in close connection with church authorities. I ask everyone to respect the security perimeter."

Give us a sense of -- I mean, this is Easter week, Melissa. Give us a sense of how people would be visiting the cathedral each just on -- during an ordinary week let alone this week.

BELL: That's right. I think that this is one of those weeks where Paris gets particularly packed. People come for their Easter break. It's the most-visited city in the world. And one of the things that people come to visit, Brianna, is this very cathedral, which is a famous all around. And even as I'm speaking to you and through the clouds of very thick dark smoke, we can now see the flames are growing higher all the time. They are now engulfing one of the spires towards the back of the church. The fire is nowhere near under control. It's actually getting worse before our very eyes. And this is so much history that is going up in smoke, as you said. What we're seeing from the outside would suggest catastrophic damage inside one of the most precious historical sites in the world. There will be very little I'm sure that can be done to salvage so much of its precious interior. Those flames are now making their way all the way up to the top of the highest spire of the cathedral. You can see the flames now within those plumes of black smoke. Very thick, very heavy, very dark and the flames now reaching the very top of that spire towards the back of the structure.

[13:35:48] BOLDUAN: Melissa, stay with me.

I just want to reset very quickly to tell viewers who may be joining us what they are watching. This is the Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames. At this point in time, the fire department and authorities are responding, but as you can see, this fire is carrying on in the heart of Paris unabated at this iconic building.

Give us a sense, Melissa, from where you're standing where you can see what is happening at the cathedral. I hear the sirens behind you. Do you have any sense that authorities are getting closer to the cathedral? And obviously, the concern is that this is going -- that this is -- that this is catastrophic, and the question is, how much will they be able to help the situation by the time they respond.

BELL: How much can they salvage. This is a massive fire that's now engulfed Notre Dame. Very substantial, as we've seen. And this has really happened in the last quarter of an hour, 20 minutes. The plumes of smoke began to come out and the flames. And what might have been, perhaps, in the beginning, been considered a small fire, has now definitely become pretty big. You can see the fire engines trying to make their way through the rush hour traffic. Firemen also on boats trying to get to Notre Dame, as it sets on the middle of an island on the River Seine as it goes through Paris. They are trying to reach it any way they can. But clearly, for the time being, the fire is very much out of control. The flames, you can see them really getting to the very top of that tallest spire of the building. And it is inside, of course, that the damage is likely to prove to have been worse. Unimaginable for the time being. Parisians all around me have gathered onto every vantage point and every bridge all around the building to try and get as close as they can to watch what is France's most-famous cathedral essentially go up in smoke.

KEILAR: We're aghast watching it. I can't imagine how Parisiennes are responding as they are watching this in person.

Melissa, stand by for me.

I want to bring in our Hadas Gold, who is in Paris, joining us by phone there.

Hadas, tell us how significant this is. We're watching if not a complete catastrophic damage of the cathedral, this is going to affect a significant portion of this historic building.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, Brianna, that's right. I was actually just there visiting yesterday. There is construction. You can't see that. You have to wonder if that's somehow contributing to this fire. I mean, Notre Dame has been a cathedral that has been a -- it's on the site that was the original Paris. That's literally the center of Paris, Notre Dame. It's been a cathedral for hundreds and hundreds of years. And it is a stunning building. If you've ever been there, it's just absolutely awe- inspiring and one of the top tourist sites in France, in Europe. And essentially this week, it's Easter week. You have to imagine there were a lot of people there. It's a beautiful day today in Paris. It's very warm so I would imagine -- I imagine -- I'm in route there right now, and I already heard people around me on the train starting to say to each other, Notre Dame, Notre Dame. This is something affecting a lot of people. And people are emailing and texting and saying, I'm headed to Notre Dame. And they are saying oh, my god, oh, my god. And that shows what it is and means to the people and means to the country. And, obviously, everybody is hoping that the damage can be contained and that they can rebuild this beautiful site. It's been heartbreaking to see it covered in smoke right now.

KEILAR: And so you were inside the cathedral yesterday, Hadas?

GOLD: Yes. I was just visiting as a tourist because, when you're going as a tourist, you have to go to Notre Dame. It's like the Eiffel Tower.

KEILAR: Of course.

GOLD: It's almost like a pilgrimage. It's so beautiful.

[13:40:01] KEILAR: Tell us about inside. Because what we're seeing, we're seeing the flames outside decimating the roof and decimating the spire behind the facade. The question is going to be as well, what is the damage like inside? Tell us about the damage inside the cathedral.

GOLD: I mean, the inside is awe-inspiring. It's very large and it's very grand. And I can't remember the type of roof, but it's a version very unique sort of roof for this type of cathedral. And the detail is just incredible, even just around the outside. Every single inch it seems has some beautiful detail to it. The statues are all just absolutely stunning. And it is very awe-inspiring. You see people in there really emotional when they are visited the cathedral, especially if it's their first time because it's so beautiful and awe-inspiring and because of how long it's been there. Right outside of the Notre Dame Cathedral, there's a mark on the ground that markets the center of Paris. It shows you how important Notre Dame is to this city. It's been here much longer than the other attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, and this is literally the heart Paris -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Hadas, if you can stand by for me.

I want to bring Melissa Bell back in, there on scene at the cathedral at Notre Dame.

Melissa, we're watching. It's -- it's the skeleton of the spire, and it is on fire, and you can -- you can see real the insides of the spire just laid bare by flames. And these flames are getting big by the second. We can see that. At this point in time, they are burning uncontrolled. Tell us what you're seeing there.

BELL: Just extraordinary scenes here just outside Notre Dame. I've gotten close enough to see the amount of fire engines. They are now close to building. The efforts that have been made, that are being made to get this fire under control. But for the time being, I just said, Brianna, that's not happening. Those flames are still really substantial. Behind the two main towers that make the very famous front of Notre Dame, huge amounts of smoke billowing out. Flames still coming out through the very top of the roof. So that fire is raging for the time being and nowhere being near contained.

Huge crowds have gathered and looking on in absolute astonishment and horror of what's happening here. We have no sense for the time being as to how this might have begun. Notre Dame, like so much other sights in Paris, is full of tourists. And all year around, people who come to see its extraordinary, and world-famous gothic architecture. And it is one of those structures, it really is. It's as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, Brianna, full of the history of Paris. And there it is. You can see that spire burning out of control, uncontrollably between those two front towers of Notre Dame. I can see several fire engines that have gathered around the building, but for the time being there's no sense that this fire is being brought under control.

KEILAR: Now the height of the roof that we're seeing where it's burning is obviously an issue, right? You said that there's at least one fire boat on the Seine that you can see because this is right next to the river on this island in the river. And it doesn't appear that there's any -- that they are able to reach the flames at this point in time, right?

BELL: That's right. That will be part of the problem, is just the sheer height of this structure. That spire reaches extremely high, way above the surrounding rooftops, and it will be very difficult at this stage when you see how violently that fire is raging for fire services to bring it under control. For the time being, that's not happening. Now the amount of smoke pillowing out into central Paris from the structure is really impressive black smoke. And those flames that seem just to be getting higher and higher. It is soon the very front, in fact you can see the very iconic front of Notre Dame with the two large towers, you can now see flames coming through some of the gothic windows there. This is the next part of the structure that's likely to be damaged, that will be attacked by this fire.


BELL: The entire top of the roof behind the fires for the time being --


KEILAR: You're seeing flames come through -- I just want to be clear. You're seeing flames come through the windows on the front of the cathedral as well?

BELL: That's right. Through the gothic windows, you can now see the flames appearing, so they appear to be just behind those windows. And it is that part, that front part of the cathedral that now appears to be threatened. And I'm getting a better view of the overall structure and roof. It's all the way back that the flames go. This is a huge fire that is currently burning Notre Dame. And huge crowds are gathered looking on in sheer disbelief and horror. This is so much history going up in flames. However long it takes authorities to get it under control, the damage to this structure will be fairly substantial to the structure.

[13:45:25] And it appears, at this point in time, there's no intervention here as we're watching the Notre Dame Cathedral on fire in Paris. This has been going on for -- we've been covering this for several minutes now. It started what we initially saw as there were flames that certainly appeared to be very damaging, but this has grown considerably. Now you see the spire. And the other consideration is this is moving towards the front of the church as well, that very famous facade for which Notre Dame is known. And at this point in time, there are fire engines. There's at least one fire boat that is trying to get close.

But, Melissa, there really appears, at this point, to either be an inability to get close or an inability to deal with the height of this structure in any effective way.

BELL: I suspect that's exactly right, and bring under control a fire that's raging controllably. I'm close enough to see that a massive part of the church, of the roof of the cathedral, has already been destroyed. You can see that large parts of that roof are now engulfed in flames. And for the time being, the police, the fire services are doing what they can to get -- to prevent people from getting any closer to the building to try to allow more of those fire trucks to get up close. Just in front of the cathedral, I can see seven or eight of them. They will be doing what they can to try to get to the very top of the building. But you're absolutely right. Part of the problem is the height of those flames and the damage already done to the very top part, the roof of Notre Dame, which appears, in all its length, to have been burnt. There's a smell as well. You can fell the soot falling from the sky onto the crowd watching this catastrophe unfold. The smell also of the smoke and the burning building. And the fire still raging at the very top of that roof. So much of which has already burnt -- Brianna?

KEILAR: And we do not know how this started. To be clear, the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but this has, as Melissa Bell is telling us, has burned a considerable part of the roof of this iconic church in the heart of Paris.

Tell us, Melissa, on -- on any given day, and especially in a busy week like this, this Easter week, people would be inside touring the cathedral. There would be many, many people inside. I'm assuming -- we don't know at this point but certainly personal safety is a concern.

BELL: That's right. How quickly the flames take hold, how quickly the building has burned are questions for the time being. We have no answer. The officials are scrambling to get this fire under control. Very little communication at the time being, obviously, from town hall. The mayor saying fire services are doing all they could to get it under control. But otherwise no word on the crowds that would have been inside. You're right, on any given day, but especially this time of year, there are always queues outside Notre Dame Cathedral, people waiting to get in to see a cathedral that's really world famous. And it's famous for what is inside as it is for its outside structure. So much history in there. So many little chapels, gothic architecture, a lot of wood, of course, as you would expect. And all of that, one has to imagine judging by the height of the flames, that much will have been irretrievably lost.

KEILAR: We can hear the sirens behind you, Melissa. Tell us about the scene around you. We've seen just a sea of people watching this.

BELL: That's right. I mean, the crowds are really substantial. People have come out and have heard what happened. Police are trying to push us away, push the crowds away that have gathered. And people are on their phones and looking on in disbelief and in sheer horror, the tourists for whom this structure means so much. All this history that we're seeing going up in smoke. It's heartbreaking for everyone who is standing around. Authorities doing what they can to push the crowds back to allow the fire engines in. I can see seven or eight of them parked just outside the cathedral. The cordon is being pushed back more and more all the time to try to get closer to this structure to try to bring this fire under control. For the time being, the flames are getting bigger. The flames are just getting higher and more of Notre Dame seems to be going up in smoke with every minute that passes.

[13:50:15] KEILAR: And the police are saying -- the police have tweeted out to avoid the area to facilitate the passage emergency vehicles. The mayor of Paris is saying to respect the security perimeter. Do you get a sense, Melissa, that people are doing that or are they just aghast and watching this in crowds?

BELL: (INAUDIBLE). People keep saying let them do their jobs and trying to get themselves out of the way and doing what they can to allow the emergency services. But people are in shock, and in shock watching in horror as it goes up and saying really -- staying as close as they can. You can hear the crowds shouting all around me. This is as other bits of the structure collapse. And the flames really have just in the last couple minutes grown substantially. There appears to have been some part of the structure that just collapsed beneath the weight. And people are looking on. Some of them in tears. Some of them holding their hands to their mouths. The soot and cinders are now falling. Some is striking our heads and burning our hair. Emergency services are now pushing us back further to try and get people to safety, but also the emergency services closer to the burning cathedral.

KEILAR: Melissa, there are cinders that are coming down on the people beneath the church?

BELL: Yes. I just had my hair singed. It was soot for a while. Now it's actual bits of fire falling from the sky. That's because, Brianna, the flames have just grown really in the last couple minutes much, much bigger than they were. And you can see them on the other side of that facade that you were mentioning a moment ago. They were going almost as high as that facade, and you wonder how soon the front part of the structure will be attacked. That fire really growing with every moment that passes.

KEILAR: Melissa --

BELL: People are looking on in horror.

KEILAR: All right, Melissa, you're --

BELL: It's burning before their eyes with apparently very little that these fire services are able to do to bring it under control for the time being. Quite a great deal of panic around me from emergency services, policemen and ordinary people. I've seen them crying and holding each other. The scenes here are really dreadful as people look on.

No word yet on what casualties there may have been. How quickly an evacuation may have taken place. The cathedral will have been full of crowds. It's every day of the week. No word either, Brianna, on what might have started this fire or how it could have taken hold of the structure as quickly as it did. For the time being, everyone is just really in shock as they watch the flames get bigger and bigger.

KEILAR: It is truly horrific to watch. And, Melissa, you were there at the scene at the cathedral. You are going to make your way to a camera location, I believe. We want to let you do that as we bring in our Hadas Gold there in Paris.

This is -- just as we heard Melissa talking there, Hadas, people are aghast. They have their hands to their mouth. The iconic nature of this building, the cathedral at Notre Dame, the idea that they're -- we don't know about the safety of people who would have been inside. You were there yesterday just visiting this as a tourist. This is a must-see destination if you're going to Paris. And this is something that just must be flooring Parisians even as we watch so far away aghast ourselves.

Hadas, are you with me?

We're going to try to get Hadas back on the phone.

What you're watching right now is the cathedral of Notre Dame on fire in Paris. We were just speaking with our correspondent, Melissa Bell, who is there in front of the cathedral in front of the facade, which you can see on the right side of your screen. She was describing the situation where the flames have continued to grow so high that they're actually almost to the height of this facade, as you can see here. And cinders, burning cinders were coming down on people who were not even that particularly close to the fire at the cathedral and singeing hair. This is even a safety issue for the people outside of the cathedral.

I want to bring in Jim Bittermann on the phone in Paris.

You've lived there for some time. This is stunning to watch. And so concerning as we don't have a lot of answers. We don't know the cause. We don't know the issue of personal safety. We don't know if there were people inside and if they were able to get out, Jim.

[13:55:03] JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, exactly. In fact, this time of year, with the cathedral being such a popular tourist place, there must have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of people in and around the cathedral this afternoon when the fire broke out.

One thing we know is there has been some construction work going on right around the area where the fire broke out on the rooftop. Whether that has anything to do with it, we won't know for a while.

In fact, it is really an unbelievable sight. This comes just a few days before Easter. This is, of course, the high holidays for the Catholic Church. And, in fact, I'm sure there were preparations going on for what was going to happen over the next few days. Of course, yesterday was Palm Sunday. And there were crowds there for the Palm Sunday service. And so it's really a really tragic scene that's unfolding here right in the middle of Paris this afternoon -- Brianna?

KEILAR: And so what are some of the considerations here, especially -- we just heard Melissa describing cinders coming down on people standing around this -- around the cathedral because this is burning out of control. And as you can only imagine, Parisians, just a sea of them, they are standing there dumbfounded that this is happening to really a jewel of Paris.

BITTERMANN: Absolutely. This is such a historic landmark. It goes back almost 1,000 years. And the firemen are mobilizing to a great degree. A lot of fire trucks from all over Paris are headed in that direction. And police are trying to warn people to stay away because they're having problems getting through the traffic to get there because it's the height of rush hour here in Paris, and that area around the cathedral often sees a lot of traffic jams.

I think it's really something awful to behold here as it goes up in flames. And it doesn't seem like the firemen are doing much or can do much to control the situation. We just got a message from the mayor who said that, in fact, that they were struggling to bring it under control.

The president, President Macron was scheduled to make a speech tonight, a televised speech in a few-hour's-time. He's put it off because of this. So it is quite an event.

And this is one of the icons, one of the reasons that people come to Paris, and one of the most memorable sites you can see in Paris, and that is the cathedral on the river's end -- Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Jim, if you can stand by for me.

I want to bring in Father Edward Beck on the phone.

Father, this is an iconic Catholic landmark during a very important week. As you are watching this happen, what are you thinking?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR (via telephone): Well, the cathedral has been through so much in its history. Remember, it's built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the seat of the archbishop of Paris. As was just mentioned, tourists come from all over the world and pilgrims to pray in this beautiful cathedral. So to see so much history going up in flames, it's heartbreaking. I mean, the centerpiece of that cathedral, all these organs, one of the largest organs in the world, and the stain glass windows. It's gone through a number of periods before of destruction and restoration. And yet, they kept that facade and that interior true to the original design. It was vandalized in the 16th century. It was vandalized and the contents. And many of the exteriors were removed because they were considered idolatrous. During the French Revolution it was converted into a storage warehouse for food. And it's been so much, so to see the survival of that and the numerous restorations and now to see this, it's heartbreaking.

KEILAR: We are actually -- we are actually seeing small parts of the roof caving in a little in some of the pictures we're seeing from moments ago. This is horrific. We heard Melissa Bell saying people are standing there on the street in horror. It is after 7:00 p.m., but this is the height of rush hour there in Paris.

And as you were describing, Father, just the contents of the church, the organ. We heard from our Hadas Gold, just the beauty of everything inside and the significance, the historical significance of everything inside of this church. How concerned are you about the safety of people who may have been inside?

BECK: Well, again, I have not heard anything about how it even started or who was inside. But you mentioned the historical nature of it. The architecture of that cathedral is one of the first examples of the use of those flying buttresses. And the statues and the stainless windows are renowned. And so I just think for pilgrims and people of faith, the horror is to see a beautiful building being destroyed.