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Notre-Dame Cathedral fire: Two years on, how is restoration work going at the Paris landmark?

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By Lauren Chadwick
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Fire engulfs Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019.
Fire engulfs Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019.   -   Copyright  Credit: Amin Guidara
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Two years since the devastating fire that nearly destroyed Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Gothic icon has still not been fully secured.

But the rector of the 850-year-old building has told Euronews he is hopeful that milestone will soon be achieved.

The blaze, which broke out in the early evening of April 15, 2019, stunned France and others watching on television from around the world.

It destroyed the cathedral's roof and toppled its spire but firefighters saved the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse.

"Two years ago, when I stood on the parvis, you are completely stunned by this fire," Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the cathedral's rector, told Euronews.

"It is a spiritual, physical, psychological test. You see your cathedral burning. You are unable to do something without just trusting the firefighters.

"And now, two years later, it is hope that keeps me going."

Credit: AP
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is pictured on the eve of the second anniversary of its fire, in Paris, Wednesday, April 14, 2021Credit: AP

Chauvet added the actual restoration project could start officially by the end of the year, and he hopes mass can be held in 2024.

French President Emmanuel Macron has set that year as his goal for finishing the interior restoration for the cathedral, in line with when Paris will host the Olympics.

Securing the cathedral has been a necessary but costly first step of the process, estimated at €160 million. It involved removing the stained glass windows, checking the gargoyles, removing rubble and installing protective nets in the choir to catch falling stones.

It has been complicated by scaffolding that had been erected for renovation works prior to the blaze at the tourist attraction. The fire melted the scaffolding, leaving around 200-tonnes of tangled web of burnt metal to deal with.

Brand new scaffolding has now been installed so that the condition of the vaults can be studied closely.

"It's impressive because inside you have a forest of scaffolding which goes all the way to the vaults, the full height of the cathedral," said Chauvet.

"There is an elevator that allows you to go up which is an extraordinary sight because I had never seen the vaults so closely."

ANTOINE BOUTHIER/AFP
A grab from a video recorded by AFP on April 9, 2021 shows builders working on the restoration of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Paris, damaged by the April 15, 2019 fire.ANTOINE BOUTHIER/AFP

But the project has run into its fair share of problems, with work stopped briefly for lead contamination in the summer of 2019 and for the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.

The melting of the spire and roof caused lead contamination of the site and surrounding areas. Now, a non-profit organisation has filed a complaint that the lead contamination and risk to people in the area were not adequately managed by authorities.

Chauvet says that entering the construction area for the cathedral, meanwhile, is heavily regulated.

People accessing the site wear protective clothes, a helmet and boots. You have to take a shower when exiting the construction site due to the lead.

As long as the cathedral is still contaminated "we will have to do all this protocol which takes a long time," he added.

While the COVID-19 crisis also caused some delays, it hasn't been too much of an obstacle. Everyone wears a mask and has a temperature check when they get to the site.

As for the future of the project, for Chauvet, it's hopeful as promised donations have panned out so far.

"I want to go into the future and say to myself here is this monument which is a masterpiece of the Middle Ages, and we saved it," he said.

"We are in the process of rebuilding it identically, which is for me a source of hope and joy."

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Video editor • Kristina Harazim