The inferno of Notre Dame
Paris -- As Notre Dame burned, and thousands spilled onto the streets and quais of Paris to watch the spectacle, AFP journalists were recording the historical moments from every which angle during the 15 hours that it took some 400 firefighters to put out the flames ravaging the 850-year-old structure.
Here are a few of their stories.
Ludovic Marin, photographer
It was terrifying to see the roof completely engulfed by flames. I’ve done a lot of assignments inside Notre Dame and when I saw this, I said to myself, “That’s it, it’s all going to burn.”
I watched the roof burn and remembered all the things that I have seen inside the cathedral.
It was such a horrible spectacle. All of the memories came back all at once and I just froze for about 20 seconds. I was in the spire six months ago. I had to climb up inside it, it was like climbing inside a narrow well.
Then my professional reflexes took over and I started snapping photos again.
Agnes Coudurier, video journalist
I thought it would be over very quickly. “I’ll be back for desert,” I told my family before leaving.
I went with colleagues to the square in front of Paris City Hall, where we set up a live feed. The square and all the streets leading to the river was a sea of people.
The atmosphere was a bit surreal. Everyone was filming with a phone. I don’t think anyone was actually looking at the spectacle with their own eyes. Every time something in the structure fell, the crowd would gasp. It was this massive collective release of emotion.
I didn’t think that I would get caught up in it as much as I did. When the spire crashed, it was really very moving. At that point, we had no information that anyone had been killed or injured (later we found out that one firefighter was injured), but you really got a sense of witnessing History. I nearly cried when the spire fell.
Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, photographer
I walked all around the cathedral, taking pictures. Me and a colleague managed to go just inside the police perimeter. I would take pictures, then walk to a new spot, sending the photos that I just took as I did so.
The most powerful moment for me was when the roof collapsed. Because the hundreds of bystanders who were watching let out a collective gasp. By then the spire was on fire and I had a feeling that it would go too. I was so focused on taking pictures of it that I didn’t hear anything around me when it tumbled.
I was also very moved by the people who were singing. I don’t know why, it sounded like religious chants to me.
Eric Feferberg, photographer
There were several moments when I was so impressed by what I saw that I would stop and had to remind myself to keep working.
The most moving thing for me were the crowds. They were so thunderstruck. There was a group on their knees by a little church. I wanted to show all these people witnessing over a few hours the destruction of a cathedral that it took a hundred years to build.
I had just taken images of all the major Paris landmarks with a drone last week, so I got pictures of Notre Dame before the fire. It’s mythical, it’s the heart of Paris.
Philippe Lopez, photographer
I went to the top of Montparnasse tower to get photos. When I arrived, before snapping away, I just stopped to take in the scene. It looked like an open coffin. The spire had already fallen by that time. The flames looked like they were coming from inside the monument. I thought of all the times that I had photographed Notre Dame. It always made for such nice images. Especially in springtime, when the trees were flowering. Like they are now.
François Guillot, photographer
It was very difficult to move around. It seemed like all of Paris was in the streets, watching the flames. Fire is mesmerizing that way, it’s a captivating spectacle, especially when you have something like this that’s burning.
For me, the fire was more interesting than the crowds to photograph. One of my favorite images was the one with the sun. If there were no fire, it could have been a postcard.
Patrick Anidjar, reporter
I live about a hundred meters away from Notre Dame and was at home, strumming jazz on my guitar when smelled something odd. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I went to my window to take a look. I leaned out and caught a glimpse of Notre Dame. There was a huge plume of yellow smoke billowing from behind the two front towers. I grabbed my phone and ran toward the cathedral.
Outside there was mayhem. There were people everywhere, police were screaming and pushing people back. I managed with my press card to get close and just started snapping away and taking video.
I saw flames racing to the top of the spire and then saw the roof catch fire. The towers of Notre Dame are made of stone, but I knew that much of the structure behind was made of wood. I was afraid that the whole back part could collapse. I hope noone is inside, I thought.
Notre dame en feu pic.twitter.com/lTv8uGWnEl— patrick anidjar (@PatrickAnidjar) April 15, 2019
I would take a few pictures, shoot some video, and send them to the editors and the social media team at AFP headquarters. Then I would shoot some more. After about 15 minutes I noticed that I had no network. None of the images that I had sent went through. So I made my way to a cafe with wifi to file. Then I went back out there.
The spire had collapsed while I was gone. The whole perspective of the place changed completely. It was another monument without it.
People were crying and hugging all around me. I was surprised by the outpouring of emotion. “It’s the end of an era.” “This is a catastrophe.” “We have to rebuild.” Everyone was taking pictures.
I remember thinking how out of control the whole thing seemed. You could see that the entire back part was on fire and you had two or three firefighter hoses pouring water into this huge inferno. It seemed so futile.