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BREAKING NEWS

Louisiana black churches burned by arson raise $1M after Notre Dame fire

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St. Mary's Church in Louisiana was the first to burn.
St. Mary's Church in Louisiana was the first to burn. -
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Natalie Obregon NBC News file
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The devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Parisled to an immediate outpouring of donations and an ambitious pledge by the French president to rebuild within five years. But the iconic cathedral's tragic blaze also spurred a flurry of donations totaling to more than $1.3 million for the rebuilding of three historically black churches burned in suspected hate crimes a continent away in Louisiana.

Three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish burned in what authorities said were arson fires that took place over 10 days beginning at the end of March.

As of Sunday,a GoFundMe campaignseeking to raise money for the burned Louisiana churches had raised only about $50,000. By Wednesday afternoon, donations to the campaign had soared to more than $1.3 million. The money is to be distributed equally among the three churches, which were all a century old.

"It gives you a new hope in society, it gives you a new hope in people because it shows a lot of people have a good heart," said Pastor Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

The fundraiser was shared widely in the wake of pledges to rebuild Notre Dame on social media by prominent figures including Hillary Clinton, prominent journalists such as CNN's Jake Tapper and journalist Yashar Ali as well as celebrities who pledged to match donations.

"As we hold Paris in our hearts today, let's also sent some love to our neighbors in Louisiana,"Hillary Clinton tweeted Tuesday.

Donors to the GoFundMe page echoed the sentiment in comments left on the campaign's page.

"I donated because if billionaires can give billions to rebuild Notre Dame, I can at least donate $50 to rebuild these churches," a user identified as Chester Fisher wrote.

And user Raleigh Romine wrote, "These churches shouldn't get lost in the response to the Notre Dame tragedy."

Toussaint said he was not shocked by the skyrocketing donations because "I know there are good people in the world" but he was "surprised that it's such a big reaction."

"I'm surprised and very, very appreciative," he said.

The first of the fires was reported on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church, the next on April 2 at Greater Union Baptist Church and the third on April 4 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. There were no reported injuries at any of the fires.

Police later arrested Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a deputy sheriff, in connection with the fires. According to a probable cause affidavit, authorities were able to identify Matthews by using the remains of a red gas can found at one of the fires and tracking recent purchases. He faces hate crime and arson charges.

Pastor Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, said the donations for both the cathedral and the Louisiana churches in the wake of the tragic blazes showed "the great compassion and generosity of people."

"When tragedy such as this strikes, we put aside our differences, people from all walks of life pull together their resources and assist people," he said.