Crowds of stunned Parisians and tourists – some crying, others offering prayers – watched on in horror in central Paris as flames engulfed the Notre-Dame cathedral.
Gasps and cries of “Oh my god” erupted at 7:50 pm local time when the top portion of the church's spire came crashing down into an inferno that spread to the entire roof.
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More gasps came a few seconds later when the rest of the spire collapsed, caught on the cameras of thousands of mobile phones.
One tourist caught the moment on film from a boat on the River Seine.
“Désolé mon fils, mais c'est pas tous les jours que Notre-Dame brûle”, dit un père à son bébé qui s'impatiente, à deux mètres d'une femme en larmes, soufflant “faut qu'ils fassent quelque chose ! faut qu'ils fassent quelque chose !” #notredame pic.twitter.com/mPxIbGh8Vp
— Jean Birnbaum (@JeanBirnbaum) April 15, 2019
“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.
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.
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.
Another person saw the fire from Montmartre in the north of the city, tweeting: “Unfortunate witness to the fire when it started. View from Montmartre. Now it has engulfed the spire and everything. Such a loss for humanity.”
— Kallistob (@perci_graves) April 15, 2019
One reporter at the scene captured the moment nearby, tweeting: “Place Hotel de Ville is full. Strange atmosphere.”