Notre Dame Eye Witness Account
A real time re-telling by an American
Tue, Apr 16, 2019, 6:03 AM
I was at St. Michelle, when someone told me to look up at the sky. I saw the smoke. I watched large billowing plumes of green greyish smoke being carried west. 'Bomb!', I thought, my mind automatically leaping to terrorism. No, it was the Notre Dame on fire.
We walked over to Rue Galande, a quiet street with a good view of the church. To our shock we saw a large orange blaze engulfing the roof. The air felt hot on our faces. It was a big fire. Sirens echoed in the street.
A crowd was forming, still some running. We clamored, videoed, gasped, yelped, some crying out. We watched it burn. There was nothing we could do. The evening breeze spread the fire over the roof and we watched.
Ten minutes later a crane rose up with a firefighter on the end of it. He shot a canon of water directly on the burning roof. This effort seemed ineffective. Maybe it was good for moral or the TV cameras buzzing above. The flame was so huge and tall! It raged upwards in giant licks. The hose of water looked so weak against it.
We watched the roof become consumed, and to our gasps of disbelief, the roof cave in! My friend was on the opposite road when this happened. He said the ashes and embers from the fallout rained on his face and jacket, burning him and those around. It was carried by the breeze. (Later we learned this ash was full of lead).
Next we worried about the bell towers catching fire. We watched firemen scurry around the tops of the towers. How could they stand the heat while we felt it on our faces hundreds of yards away? We watched the firemen hose the building down. Now four cranes on each side. The next goal is to keep the whole building from collapsing in on itself.
The heavy beams of the roof lay on the floor of the Notre Dame. Serving as fuel for the fires now ravaging the insides. Unbelievable! We hoped everyone was out from inside. And what about the relics and art?
My friends and I reminisced about the last time we visited the Notre Dame. I lit candles for my family. She admired the organ. He prayed. We talked while the Notre Dame continued to burn in front of us. We all tried to call our parents. The internet was too congested.
Then they started to sing.
There is a small church next to us. It's a small and modest church. There, a half a wall stands, never refurbished, remaining a tribute to the destruction of WWII. From it a choir formed. Led by a strong male voice. I don't know what they were singing, but it was familiar and solemn. Everyone in the crowd knew the words. The choir soon settled on a familiar chant which they proceeded to sing in a 45 second loop for over an hour. It started soft, and soon people joined. Some standing and swaying, and others singing as they pushed through the mass trying to get closer to the river for a better view.
There were so many people by now, it was difficult to move. We had stood there an hour. Most of us quiet, either entranced by the choir's song or transfixed on the Notre Dame burning in front of us. Together, over the next twenty minutes Parisians, foreigners, tourists side by side all witnessing the final destruction of a church that war and revolution could not take down. We saw large chunks of the scaffolding fall off, a new fire start in the left bell tower and then quickly be put out.
We stood and watched en mass, in total disbelief, while recognizing that this is a historic day. More than just a building was burning.
What had caused it? Why had this occurred in our time? And this exact hour and day?!
We slowly realized that it will take hours and days for it to be finished burning. As it would take us days to absorb this experience and loss. We slowly, yet assertively, fought our way out of the mob and towards the metro station. Which were all closed. So we went to the bus station, which were also closed.
So we went back to the restaurant at same street (Aux trois mailletz of course) to split a bottle of red. As we drank, we watched people watch the Notre Dame burn. We caught glimpses of it on their phones. It looked dimmer and darker. We imagined how people would come from near and far now to see the burnt crust of the Notre Dame. And life will go on, different.
The Notre Dame, our beloved inspiration, identity, and history... would now sit blackened in the center of our city from April 15, 2019.