tv CNN Newsroom With Brooke Baldwin CNN April 15, 2019 12:00pm-1:00pm PDT
this is part of the history of humanity and one of the most iconic buildings in the world. as the flames earlier rose that high to the very top of those towers, it was difficult to imagine that they would be able to bring them you should control at all. and we were witnessing the structure collapsing entirely. as you say, of course, we watch those high flames come under control. of course, the -- >> melissa -- >> reporter: the fire inside the main structure will have burned so fiercely that as you can see, while the size of the flames has come down, the strength of the fire is undiminished. move to p structure that were untouched. >> the concern is we heard from the fire chief before in new york city, that will be okay if it's just about the insides being burned up because they're stone. but if the walls collapse, god forbid, if they can't sustain their integrity, then the entire structure could be vulnerable.
one of the things -- melissa, stay safe. stand by. let me know what changes and get back in my ear so i can come to you. let's go to dominique thomas, can you hear me? >> reporter: yes. >> did i pronounce your name correctly? >> reporter: close enough. >> this is a reminder that there's beauty in the world. it's a symbol to look to regardless of your faith and see something beautiful, something that's withstood the test of time and that's been here since the 1100s, 1300s in earnest. give us some perspective on that in terms of what those walls have received and witnessed. >> yes, you're right. this is a building that one of the most phenomenal examples of gothic architecture that was
initially built, and let's not forget by hand all the way back in the 12th century. this is a building that in the 19th century the authorities were considering to destroy as the whole area in front of it was inhabited and it was a goal to open up the city, and victor hug oled the campaign to defend the building. it is a building that internationally one could argue with the eiffel tower every tourist that's been to france has visited this site either entering the cathedral or walking in the surrounding area. and the big staple that we saw collapse was part of the late 19th century restoration of this particular structure. and the french government over the past decade or so as invested considerably in the process of renovating these iconic sites of french culture, precisely to encourage more tourism to the french capital,
and seeing this, of course, happen to notre dame cathedral is absolutely devastating for people who have lived and grown up there as i did. and for all the tourists that have had the chance to visit this city. >> just some of the high points. clarissa ward is with me as well. we've been doing our homework as we're watching what's happening here to give people better context and perspective. the crowning of kings, at least henry vi in napoleon wanted to be the ruler in that place for a reason. what are you finding? >> france's history and the notre dame cathedral are so deeply embroidered in and of each other. and i think the one thing that sort of can give us any degree of hope on this day is that notre dame has been in this state before. perhaps not to quite this extent that we're seeing today, but
certainly it was ransacked by the hugonots in the 1540s. it was desecrated during the french revolution. in 1845 it underwent 25 years of renovatio renovations. not only is it richly and deeply intertwined with french history. it's also a story of survival. this is an edifice that has faced many challenges, that has been attacked many times before. and has always managed because of the support and love that french people and indeed the people of the world have for notre dame to rise up again, to be returned to its imaginestmajs emblem of incredible architecture. one can only hope as the french president stands there watching this with all those bystanders and tourists and people on the streets who happen to be walking by, seeing this burn, that he is
already thinking and that all french officials and architects and people who were involved in issues like unesco of restoration are already thinking about how can we somehow rebuild this incredible structure so it can rise once again? >> it looks like that will be the need. and for people who are celebrating this week whether it's the jews or the christians, they'll attach a lot of significance to the idea of descending to the depths of darkness, the concerns about destruction and evil, and being born once again. making it through difficult times. those are themes consistent with both the celebrations going on this week. people will get there different ways according to their faith, but the journey of this famous place is going to track exactly that. to give a sense of what's being lost in realtime, dominic, we've seen it in so many postcards and paintings around the world. when it fell, so did one of the
most identifiable symbols in our collective culture. your take? >> you're right. i mean, this is something that stands up above the city. you can see that the notre dame cathedral sits on one of the two small islands that are part of the old city of paris that separate the historic left bank from the right back of the city. it is a predominantly pedestrian area. access to very limited. all the more so since the terror attacks in paris. that means there are cement areas put up around it that make traffic access extraordinarily difficult. as i see the fire is not yet under control, i'm constantly asking myself, what is it that's driving this flame? what are the catalysts? my initial thinking is that the building has inside it all these materials that are being used for renovation and special substances that are probably highly flammable that are used to clean the stone and protect
the stain glass windows and restore this iconic structure. and it was only just a few years ago that they celebrated the 80 0 0 -- 800th anniversary of the building. they've moved to the significant area at the back now. as you were talking earlier about the fact that everybody who goes to the city has visited, my concern is that it will take as clarissa pointed out a generation to rebuild and restore this building. and the great concern is watching the front left tower as you look at it from the west of paris here, that also seems to be on fire now. and this is not yet under control. >> no, it does not seem to be that way. one of the fire experts that we spoke to earlier said that what will make sense to people as desperate as it will sound, something that is made of stone and hallow on the inside is going to get very hot. it's like an oven. you know, it's literally like a
crucible of everything that's been kept inside, and everything is going to succumb to the fire that's inside that building by its very own design. we just got word from the authorities there that there are some 400 firefighters, first responders as we call them here now responding to this situation. working it. you have to contextually put it in line of what the chief told us which is can't fight it from the inside. too hot because of this stone oven effect we're talking to you about. too dangerous on top of all the loss of history, human lives cannot be replaced or rebuilt. melissa bell on the ground now. we hear word there are 400 firefighters. i still don't understand, though, jim bitterman gave us context. you're not allowed to fly in paris. maybe they don't have the chopper capabilities that close. that's something that's more on the outskirts of paris. it does seem to be something we would have thought that would
come into play here. do you have any sense of why we haven't seen helicopters? >> reporter: well, look, beyond the one that i saw very early on in this, and it appeared to be involved in a reconnaissance rather than anything else. we haven't seen helicopters bumping any amount of water. that's one of the questions. the main one is given rush hour, what could have sparked this terrible fire to begin with? it took hold so quickly. i mean, from the moments when on social media we first got a sense of smoke billowing out of the top of the cathedral to the moment when the flames appeared to engulf the roof entirely was really a very short amount of time. so something caused this catastrophic fire to get underway. that is now the subject of an investigation. here the sense of emotion now that night has fallen seems to getting stronger. people are watching this unfolding tragedy with a great deal of emotion. hymns are being sung all around,
and people are watching even as that front tower now appears to have been affected by the flames. still even though the flames much lower than they were earlier on. even though they appear to have been brought somewhat under control, the heat inside that building given the size of this fire will be tremendous, and that fire is very far from being brought entirely under control. indeed, it continues to threaten the very front part of that iconic facade. so famous worldwide as people continue to look on in horror at what is likely to prove to be the substantial damage that has been done tonight to notre dame. this historic monument, the most visited in europe. >> boy, it is just a haunting picture to see the beauty and everything that that cathedral represents back lit by fire.
as literally parts are being burned to the ground right before our eyes. just to balance out what we are losing with what we have had, the beautiful benefit of for all these centuries, let's show you some of the iconic pictures from inside the cathedral. what we had. what may have been lost and what we'll need to work very hard and collectively in replacing. you're going to see the frescos, the architecture, what they're calling the knave. its organ. that organ is one of the most games organs in the world. the sound, the resonance, the beauty, the depictions of something greater above us all. that was the reason for the height, not just to show significance of architectural achievement but the calling to look above yourself, to think of something bigger than yourself. the spire, the most obvious manifestation of pointing its way up to the heavens.
so much timeless work and memories and history inside one place. visited by kings and rulers and everyday men and women alike, and now on the verge of largely being gone. and that organ, i've got to tell you, part of it is the sound because of the architecture of that particular church and the unusual height of that one cathedral, but that organ is known, and when you look on the inside, you just see so many of the materials of a church are either completely kindling, or invulnerable. the stone, but as the chief pointed out earlier, walls are only as strong as that which supports them. and we just have to hope and pray that people are safe, that the firefighters don't get hurt. that nobody was lost inside. and that those walls with k stand this test of fire. if they collapse, if they go out, there's going to be devastation in that city.
if they go in, there's going to be a loss of something that will be very difficult to replace. now, we have had fire on the inside before as clarissa was telling you. and this church has withstood a lot. but let's get more perspective on what it has been like to witness this on this day all through and into the night. we've got patrick bakowski, a polish tourist standing at the scene. obviously notre dame right next to the john paul ii memorial. obviously essential significance to you , but what was it like fr you to see this happen at notre dame? >> so hi. i had my polish friend who came to see me to visit me from poland. i live in paris. we've been walking around, and then we just chose a random cafe to have a coffee, and so we
started smelling like something was burning. like something was burning. then one of the bartenders said that it's not at the restaurant, actually. and the other person came in and said well, notre dame is on fire. and at first i was like how is that possible? t something ridiculous. it cannot be happening. and then so we ran out of the bar, and we -- what i saw in front of me was terrific, and horrible. one of the symbols of paris next to notre dame and the films is actually burning. and the fire was so big that i could see actually the ashes on my jacket, and it was horrible. then it was like a few hours ago, and now it seems like it's getting better, and so i'm sure
that the roof, because i have a friend who lives just right behind notre dame, so i could see that the roof collapsed, and what i can see, i am in front of this, so i see the two towers. and i can tell you right now, looking at the noter dame, that the left tower is actually on fire. there are people on my left side i can clearly see people praying, saying a prayer in french. people crying. people don't really know what's happening. people don't believe that notre dame famous all over the world that brings millions of tourists is not going to be there probably a few hours. and i am still shaking. i don't know what to say. i've been living here for four years, and notre dame was one of the first places i visited in
paris. and it's just horrible. >> all right. well, listen, thank you, patrick for talking to us about this. you're lucky. you're blessed with family. stay close. >> yeah. >> and whenever we lose things we're reminded that it's the people that we can't replace, but those words are going to fall hall bow when we lose something of this significance. thank you for sharing the experience with us. again, look the timing is significant. this place i think it was commissioned in the 1100s. it got finished sometime in the 1300s. thank god this wasn't yesterday. >> you mentioned i think importantly, chris, the inside of the church as well. obviously we're so struck by the spectacular majesty of the architecture, but some of the artifacts are irreplaceable and very significant this time of year. and i'm thinking principally of
the relics of the crucifixion. it's believed that notre dame is home to part of the crown of thorns that jesus christ wore. part of the original cross, and so this is a place that is so deeply embedded in the hearts of catholics and the hearts of christians, and in the sort of pageantry and ritual and sacredness of this time of year that it is absolutely heart breaking for people who are watching that all go up in smoke, who are watching that history, who are watching that sacredness with eviscerated by the hungry flames of this senseless fire. >> hungry. >> or as far as we know senseless. >> hungry is the right term. i hate seeing the images of the scaffolding. they're just tempting the flames to keep ascending because there's fuel there. >> as we all know, they've been there for years on and off. the first time i visited notre
dame in the late 90s, the facade was dark. it was dirty. and then they had for years and years these scaffolding up. they did this huge operation, and then suddenly it was again once -- >> new bells. didn't it get new bells? >> new bells and what huge bells they are. enormous bells. you mentioned the organ. it's the largest organ in france. 8,000 pipes. everything about notre dame is spectacular. it's magnificent. >> that's how it was designed. it's like that for a lot of cathedrals. this one stood out in terms of the greatness, and people with religion and religious philosophy, they can debate the need for grandeur or should jesus's message have been something else. that's not what today is about. but this week, this is a test. this is when catholics come together the most and the most often. you have the three-day not celebration but a ritual.
the washing of the feet. the last supper. the obvious crucifixion of jesus and what that means and how it's broken down and it all cull ma nates in the rebirth and renewal. these are heavy themes. they're the most important part of the liturgy calendar. where will the people go? who will bring them in? how will they gather? what will they make this week about in the wake of this? we're told the french president macron is there on scene right now. security concerns being equal, that's where he should be. >> and that i think gives you a sense of just what a building we're talking about. in many countries the idea of the president going to the site of a fire, of a building on fire would be unheard of. but in france with notre dame,
there's no question that macron is exactly where he should be, and coming to speak to your other point which is so important, where will easter mass take place this sunday? what will the catholic church do to try to fill this void? it's a tremendous void, and a tremendous sadness that will be in the hearts of many worshippers on easter sunday which as you say coming on the heels of good friday, a day of sadness. easter sunday is supposed to be a day of jubilation and renewal and rebirth, and so it will be interesting to see how the catholic church and how france rises to the occasion to try to provide people with some sense of hope in this sad time. >> the french president is there. the united states president has taken notice of this. obviously called it what it is. a tremendous tragedy. he was supposed to have a round table on taxation. he says it's going to have to wait because all eyes are on this situation.
an experience we are living through together, and it's of the most horrible variety. we are going to take a quick break. we still haven't heard from the pope from the head of the catholic church. what will the vatican say? what will it do for this easter celebration? let's take a quick break. our special coverage will continue in a moment. hi i'm joan lunden. today's senior living communities have never been better, with amazing amenities like movie theaters, exercise rooms and swimming pools, public cafes, bars and bistros even pet care services. and there's never been an easier way to get great advice. a place for mom is a free service that pairs you with a local advisor to help you sort through your options and find a perfect place. a place for mom. you know your family we know senior living. together we'll make the right choice.
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paris. and our viewers around the world are joined and watching the death of something beautiful. that is notre dame. one of the oldest cathedrals, one of the most famous cathedrals. one of the most significant cathedrals. it's been lit on fire. we don't know why. it's undergoing extensive renovations. that's speculated as what this could be. there's no reporting of any intentionality, of any attack, but we do not know the answer. the only solace is we have not gotten reports of loss of life. this fire has been burning for several hours. the nature of this church is that the best we can hope for right now from this structure is that it can continue to stand after the amazing heat that it is tolerating on the inside. a stone structure that is largely hollow on the inside works like an oven in terms of fire capabilities. that's what the experts say.
that's what we're witnessing. the flames have gotten so high. they've destroyed so much. they went right through the roof. they're devouring the scaffolding that's working as some type of temptation for the flames to keep them high. we've seen it travel into the front so close to one of the fa famous rose windows. a distinctive feature of notre dame. no reports of human casualties. we're watching for how much can they control it and will the walls remain standing. if not, will they fall in or out? different types of challenges and potential catastrophe with that. what you're watching on the other side of your screen is one of the greatest symbols of this cathedral. the spire pointing the way up to the heavens. a reminder for people of something bigger than us here on earth. the heat literally eating away its foundation, taking down that stone spire. gone forever.
this is a difficult day no matter who you are, no matter where you are. we all want and need beautiful things in the world right now. and unfortunately there will be one less at least until there's an up swing after this downturn in the fate of notre dame. it's been down before, but i don't think ever like this this. we have people all over the world. we have experts helping us understand the fight against this fire and the loss of this dimension of this caliber of history. 1100s is when this was commissioned. 1300s is when notre dame was completed. all throughout history kings, rulers, queens, and everyday people have visited it to the tune of 13 million people a year. it means so much no matter what you believe. put up the map. it's situated in a special but precarious way. a little island in the middle of
paris. i think it's called the island of the city. it's in the river sin. getting to it is not easy. fire boat can get to it, but they can't get right next to it. remember, scale matters. that's a significant distance from the river to it. on the other side there's a passageway through. 400 firefighters on the scene. an expert told us earlier you can't fight it from the inside. not a stone structure like this. too much energy. too much heat. too much danger. god forbid we lose a number of human lives that in any way starts to compare with the loss of architecture and significance that has already happened. so this is a fight against the odds. and we will keep watching it in realtime. let's start on the ground. melissa bell, you've been watching this since first word of it. what has changed recently? what can you tell us? >> well, night has now fallen. the crowds have gotten even
bigger as the evening has worn on. and all around me catholics have gathered to me hymns as they continue to watch this extraordinary monument not only to catholics but as you heard a moment ago, one of the most important monuments of humanity. one of the most ancient cathedrals that stands in europe and the most visited on the european continent. the fire inside continues to rage. we can see the flames not quite as high as they were earlier on, but still clearly not under control and continuing to damage the entire edifice structurally. a short while ago we watched the fl flames make their way to one of the towers at the front part of the church, the facade so known around the world. this even as then the flames continue to rage 400 firefighters are involved trying to bring them under control.
we understand the french president, macron, is now on the scene. he had been due to address the french people tonight in a televised address. it was cancelled and he's here with the interior minister and the chief prosecutor. you know already an inquiry has been opened to try to work out precisely what could have been allowed this violent fire to break out as quickly as it did, engulfing the main part of the church's roof. you can see just behind me there the flames continue to burn away inside the structure itself. no longer rising above the edges but clearly still burning fiercely inside and the smoke there not as thick, not as black as it was, but still billowing out of the structure. all around me astonished, horrified parisians watching as the monument has gone up in flames. >> melissa, obviously timing matters. this place has stood for centuries. this is easter week.
thank god it's not yesterday. it was palm sunday. and the schedule was full here. there were four, five different masses, and palm sunday is a huge day. they take palms and it's a ritual that remembers how people threw them at the feet of jesus as he was entering his final place, not the crucifixion, but he was being greeted and celebrated. some people like me, i just put a picture today on instagram of making a palm cross the way my grandfather did. i've been in that church. there are millions of people all over the world, all over this country of america where we're broadcasting from who have memories of being there if they've been fortunate enough to live or visit. i prayed for my kids in that church. i've been with my wife in that church. i went to it for solace during the terrible charlie hebdo attacks in the it means so much to so many people all over the world throughout time. and while it will never be
forgotten and it can be rebuilt, so much of it is now gone. what we're told by the experts is the reason the fires are dying down is they're being fought, but they're also running out of fuel on the inside which means they're just devouring everything and so much of it can't be replaced. and in this week of all weeks, this is the main time the catholics come together. it's a three-day festival, what we call easter. it's a process of days and events and significance of what jesus brought into his crucifixion, why he went through it, the message to the rest of us, his descent to the death, and his rebirth and renewal. that will be the part we cling to in processing this situation no matter what you believe in terms of religion. the idea that something can be great again once it is destroyed, hard to believe in this moment. the fire so much more dramatic at night. it is literally lighting up the city of lights in a way it never wanted to be illuminated, not by flames and notre dame. not by flames and notre dame.
not now. and lester, john's hopkins professor of medieval history, what is inside this place? thank god no people that we know of. no human toll to add to the tragedy yet. hopefully the 400 firefighters we're told are on scene stay safe. but what was inside we're going to have to rush to see if any of it remains? >> thank you. that's right. thank god nobody is inside and has been hurt, but inside hundreds of years worth of objects, of paintings, of decoration. and of course, as you say, some monumentally, the relics that have been in paris since the 12th and 13th century. relic in particular of the true cross and crown of thorns that were a benchmark for the people of france, for the crown of france. the kings and queens.
>> so tough. and in terms of what people should know about this. it's one of the most recognizable places in the world, but what has this structure, even if you don't ascribe any spiritual significance to it, what has it borne witness to? what has happened inside the walls? what has it suffered through before? >> yeah. i think like you say, i think it's a witness to community. to the community of french people back in the middle ages. the community of the realm. it is a huge structure. it's a place where people came together to worship, to profess, to hear, hear stories about their past as well as their present. to reflect on their place in the world. and over time this is an unprecedented thing we're witnessing informal over time although the cathedral was damaged in various ways during the reformation with the hugonauts attacking the outside of the building, during
revelation in 1789 when images and sculptures were removed and fears of damage and destruction during the second world war. but throughout all that time, communities came together. the community of france and of paris and preserved parts of the building. in particular, preserving the glass during the second world war. this is an event that no one was prepared for, and those things have not been preserved. i'm sure the community will come together as a result, but we've lost a huge amount. >> professor, you know the u.s. bishop's conference, we haven't heard from the vatican or we don't have word of it here. this has been going on since rush hour. you would think the pope would know. he just had a very big moment with people who made peace in africa. i don't understand why, but the somewhat controversial image of him kissing their feet and asking them to stay in peace, how he'll respond to this, what we'll do for the easter celebration? would he think about coming to
paris? the u.s. bishop's conference put out this statement. wishing hope to those fighting this fire. we are a people of hope and of the resurrection. and as devastating as this fire is, i know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all christians. and it is very hard to look at something that is such an unmitigated tragedy, except for the solace that we have not had to deal with a loss of human life as far as we know. we'll stay on it and update you. it is still tough when apparently so much has been lost already. i'm here in new york. we're broadcasting this around the world. i'm joined by cla lis have a ward. this will be a test for the church this week. how will they respond in this most significant, most emotional, most religious part of the catholic calendar when
one of its main symbols of community is all but gone? >> i think the key will be first of all how they respond in the moment. now we would expect to hear from the vatican soon as to so many kind of a response. but then what happens with sunday mass? as you know, good friday is a day of sadness. it's a day of mourning the crucifixion of jesus, but sunday easter sunday is a day of jubilation. it's a day of renewal, of rebirth, of celebration. and good friday and easter together are really the most important days in the catholic calendar. so how does the vatican respond in how do they reach out to all the catholics not just in france but across the world who are going to be feeling desperately sad about this on a personal level. even though these images that we've been looking at are of a stone building burning, this is not just any ordinary building. this is a building that has deep
religious and architectural and cultural significance, that has been visited by 13 million people every single year. that's been the place of gathering during times of tragedy in france whether it was the 2015 paris attacks, this is where the memorial service was held. this is where people congregate. this is where they seek solace. where do they go? what becomes of notre dame? how do you fill that vacuum? how do you soothe that sadness? these are the very real issues that the vatican will be grappling with and the french government as well. >> in moments like this, it's okay to feel the pain. i remember after all of us covering what happened at the bataklon and the charlie hebdo attacks before, notre dame loomed large as a reminder that there was more beauty than the ugliness of hate in this world. i remember that being an
opportunity that it was okay to be sad and to cry and to feel the pain of what obviously we put aside in the moments people can know what's going on and seeking out solace in this place as so many have. it's not just the sunday. this is a big week. they have to deal with the last supper and that's something where you would celebrate together the significance. the stations of the cross. the adoreration. dealing with the passion of the christ which is the crucifixion, and even the quiet periods of what they call vespers. you sought each other. where will they do that? it's so important. dare i say there's opportunity in catastrophe. i don't like to rationalize catastrophe, but it will be an opportunity. this year different than last year to show the connection to the faith and community in a way that they wouldn't be able to without those. >> and in that sense, i think
this is a moment for the catholic church. this is a moment for the vatican. this is a moment for president macron, by the way. >> he's there on scene. >> he's on the scene. as well he should be. he's fighting his own political fires in france at the moment. this is a moment for leadership. whether it comes from the catholic church, but it's also a moment as you said, you describe beautifully that sense of feeling that it's okay to be sad when you went in to notre dame. feeling whether you're a religious person or not, whether you're catholic or jewish or an atheist, it didn't matter. when you're in notre dame, there's a sense there's something larger than you. there was a majesty that was humbling to experience. so trying to find a way to fill that spiritual void for people, to provide that comfort is going to be a challenge, but as you say, poshlltentially an enormou opportunity and potentially a moment as well for coming
together. and this is something that's needed right now. not just in france but across europe and much of the world. >> imagine the image of the pope in front of notre dame saying mass on sunday. you know, with smoke still rising up from it as an idea of rebirth and renewal. how powerful that would be. and this is still going on, but look. the headline is written. this story is what it appears to be on your screen. that place will never be what it was. maybe it will be greater someday. that would be a beautiful restorative dream. we're going to take a quick break showing you the fires burning into the night. one of the world's most recognizable places all but gone. cnn will continue its coverage. we're still trying to find out how this happened. what's going on inside right now. and was anyone hurt or lost? there's a lot more to be discovered. stay with cnn.
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xfinity watchathon week has sadly come to an end. what, what, what! no! but don't let that stop you from watching the best shows and movies from showtime, hbo, epix... jesus, what happened? ...and more. it's just the tip of the iceberg. upgrade now to get more into what you're into. thanks! just say "watchathon" into your x1 voice remote to upgrade and keep getting more of what you love. all right. i want to show you something going on right now. this is notre dame. we've been covering for the last few hours. it's been on fire. do you see the lights? we think the firefighters have reached that front tower where it was burning, and made an additional layer of tragedy to
this. is the whole thing going to be lost? that's the fear right now. once a stone structure is hallowed out and the roof is gone, what supports the walls though made of stone, they're still structurally vulnerable. and the concern was will they fall out, fall in? but this, this is a sign for hope. if they're up there and able to walk around and inspect what's going on, one, thank god we know it's not on fire because you can't put your men and women in danger. we were told by fire experts earlier you can't do it, fight the fire from the inside. that's a good sign that they're there surveying and figuring out what else they have to deal with and what was lost. thank god for them being inside and hopefully being safe. and the fire is not out. there's tons of smokes and flames. look at this. the city of lights illuminated in the worst way. by fire light burning through one of the most recognizable places in the world.
the cathedral of notre dame. so many of you watching us all around the world right now in c cnn's special coverage. if you've been blessed to live there or visit, the memories are deep. whi clarissa ward said when you walk inside that place, you are awe struck with the humility that there is something bigger in that world than you. that's what the architecture spoke to. that's what it's existing over the eras, over the centuries, the something beautiful existing through the best and worst of times. this was a living monument to the durability of beauty and of higher beliefs. and now it is being ravaged by flame, tons of scaffolding around it, it was going through a period of renovation. that stuff works as fuel, fire so hot it burned through a stone
roof, took down one of the most famous symbols of aspiration in the world, the spire atop notre dame, literally fell down into the body of the church early on. such a devastating moment. the symbolism, the reminders. yes, i hear your messages from my brothers and sisters here in new york and those who all over the world watched the towers fall. yes, i don't know that there's a need for comparison. there's no reason for us to remember an even greater tragedy because of all the human loss to process this one. but yes, it is that same nightmarish fright of watching something that loomed large succumb to flame and fire. yes, it is. and now they're inside, trying to figure out what this will be. again, that's the best thing i've seen since this started,
that there are men and maybe women, first responders in there, figuring out what's going on. hopefully a sign that the worst is behind us in terms of the destruction of this. so, this has been very difficult to deal with. it's a stone structure. it works like an oven when it's on fire on the inside. we've been told there are 400 firefighters attacking the blaze. the french president is on scene. the u.s. president has weighed in on this tragedy. we haven't heard from the vatican yet, but certainly, this is shaking to the core. this week of all weeks, easter week, the highest of holy days. the significance, the symbolism of the savior being crucified and rising again. how will that message be communicated in the wake of this loss? we'll have to see what the pope does with this. what the church community does with this, what the world community does with this. but the pictures tell the story. but only part of it. because what was inside that church is every bit as valuable
as what we see on the outside of it. for that, i want to get a little perspective, okay? we have dominique thomas with us, works with us on cnn, he understands the history. what was inside it? what has it born witness to over the ages that made it literally living history? >> yes, it is -- you're absolutely right, chris. just some of these pictures that you have up on the screen, going from this historic organ to the art works that were in there, the relics. it's also a building that has a deep underground structure that goes back so far in history. it is a place in which religious figures have gathered, at which important events have brought people together. and ionically, along with the eiffel tower, it is probably the most recognizable physical structure in the world. the definition of catastrophe would be if this had happened
during the daytime when so many people visit these particular structures, that right now the disaster of the loss of these objects. some of the walls can be repaired, but the stained glass windows that are unique cannot. and so as we're watching here, in the same way we saw with the various paris attacks that brought out hashtags like i am charlie, you can see the same kind of happening here. this is a national monument. whatever your religious identification would be, this is a major iconic part of french identity. something that was defended by victor hugo in the 19th century, when the authorities at the time thought that it was an eye shso that should be destroyed. and over the years, it has been restored. it has suffered attacks, fires, so on. but here we have arguably the most devastating fire or anything to have hit this
particular structure here. and a huge concern about what these firefighters are actually doing in there now and whether, in fact, their safety is being put ahead of protecting these incredible iconic objects that are inside. >> right. adapting, you know, a concept from catholicism, the church is the people, not the places. and the people matter most. and thank god, to this point, we don't have reports of injured. certainly, nobody reported to have lost their lives here yet, but we do have hundreds of firefighters. hopefully they're safe. we understand the limitations of being able to fight a fire like this on the inside. there's so many layers of significance to this loss. again, this is holy week. this is the biggest week in the catholic calendar. liturgically, this is it. this is the week. thank god as dominique was saying to you, it wasn't palm sunday yesterday when the place would have been filled. it wasn't one of the days to come, thursday, friday, saturday, when you have so many
people coming in and out of church most of the time. you've got to take the good fortune where you can see it. and this is a relative assessment. obviously, this is an unmitigated tragedy, but it could have been at an even worse time given the time of year that it is. now, we got word from the vatican, we had been waiting, and they released a statement that the holy see, that's what they call the vatican, has learned with shock and sadness, the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the cathedral of notre dame in paris, symbol of christianity in france and in the world. we express our closeness to the french catholic and to the people of paris. we pray for the firefighters and all of those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation. it will be so interesting to see what does this pope do with this holy week, given this loss? is there a chance that you see the pope not in rome celebrating easter sunday, but here? what an important image that
would be. delia gallagher is live in rome, understands the vatican and the processes there very well, instructs us all on it all the time. we got the report from the vatican. what do you think, delia, that we may still see in terms of reaction from the pope, from the vatican? >> well, chris, i would say that your question about whether or not the pope could visit may be a possibility. we do not have any kind of information at the moment, obviously, the pope is following this and has released the statement expressing his closeness to french catholics, because above all else, of course, crust, this is also a regular catholic church for french catholics. and as you have been saying, this is the place where they would have been going to celebrate this most important week in the catholic calendar. inside that church are important relics. a relic of what they assume to
be the cross of jesus, a relic of the crown of thorns, which they actually on good friday venerate in that cathedral. and so it's a place of gathering like many catholic churches. so, the first point is that for the vatican, of course, it's a catholic place, and they express their sorrow to catholics. whether the pope will actually be able to physically be with the catholics in paris, we have yet to see. wouldn't rule it out. of course, we know that he's a pope of surprises. this cathedral, also, chris, is a place where other popes have visited. john paul ii said mass there twice. pope benedict has visited there. a very close connection, obviously, between the city of paris and the city of rome and the vatican. so, we've been talking about how it is a devastate iing time for everybody around the world, because it is a cultural symbol, but of course, the religious
symbol particularly as you've been pointing out in this week for catholics in the country is immense. >> rebirth and renewal. i was one of those who were blessed, sneo to speak, to be ae to visit this place so many times. and i want to bring in jim bittermann, because, jim, we lived some of these moments t s together. after the bataclan attack, you were mentor and reporter for so many of us on scene. and notre dame became a place where people could gather after those to seek solace, no matter their beliefs. i went there for that reason and to cover the proceedings there and to finally express the grief in a place that speaks to something bigger than life as we know it and ideas bigger than just ourselves. what will this mean to life there, if this place is burned out for years to come?
>> well, it's going to mean a lot. i mean, we've just completed some religious programming that we did that, in fact, featured notre dame in the middle of it. there's other things that go on there. you know, as you mentioned, it's the center of french life. president mitteron, probably the most areligious president that we've had, in fact, his funeral was conducted there. it's a gathering point for all sorts of the both civil and kind of religious ceremonies. so i think without it, people will not have a place to go. i mean, it's just -- there'll be other churches, of course, there's plenty of churches around paris, but nothing like notre dame. the last pope, by the way, who visited notre dame was 2008. that was benedict 16. it would be quite a remarkable symbol if this pope decided to come visit for this easter mass. it's hard to believe that that could be organized so quickly, but especially with the church still burning at this hour.
so it will be interesting to see what happens next, but, in fact, it's a loss of a gigantic symbol for the country and for the world. >> no question. jim, thank you very much. you'll continue with part of the coverage. one quick note. i had speculated on, it was part of our concerns, why no helicopters dumping water. the french government has responded to that. it's not about not having the capability, it's not even about not being able to get them there in time. they're worried that this type of fire and this type of structure, that that kind of water being dumped into it may have increased the risk of the walls imploding or falling out. so it was a conscious decision that was made. our coverage with jake tapper in washington continues right now. >> announcer: this is cnn breaking news. >> welcome to