Plumes of orange smoke engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France on Monday evening, causing the famous spire to collapse. The images of the 12-century church ablaze — which had been undergoing renovations — left many speechless.
Rachel Harrington-Abrams, a student living in Paris, was in her apartment with a friend when another friend told them there was a huge fire nearby and to come outside to see it.
"The back half of the roof was on fire, there were huge flames coming off of the top and a giant cloud of greenish-yellow smoke," Harrington-Abrams said. "We stood out there for an hour and watched it slowly burn up the entire roof, and then the roof collapsed into the building."
Harrington-Abrams wakes up every morning with a view of the cathedral from her quaint Parisian apartment, and watches it light up every night before falling asleep. She said that the cathedral is not only a historical treasure, but has a personal significance for her.
"It's a huge symbol of all the hundreds of years of history that have existed in that space since long before I came," she said. "It brings me a lot of joy every day to see such a beautiful building. It's a big landmark of my time living in Paris."
French President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday that he would launch a national funding campaign and plans to rebuild the monument within the next five years, the Associated Press reported.
"Notre Dame of Paris is our history, our literature, our imagination. The place where we survived epidemics, wars, liberation. It has been the epicenter of our lives," Macron said on Monday from Paris.
Shock and sadness radiated from all corners of the globe. Antoine Hong, a sophomore majoring in business at USC, was born in Paris and lived in France for ten years. He said he has met a lot of French students at USC and even has a group chat with some of them.
"A lot of people in that group chat were starting to post on social media [using] #PrayForParis," he said.
Europe has felt the effects of tragedy recently, with several terror attacks the past few years. In November 2015, Paris suffered from a series of attacks involving multiple shooters and two suicide bombers. Even though the Paris prosecutor has ruled out terror-related motives for now, the ripple effect of devastation is still felt around the world.
Hong moved around Asia after leaving France and frequently returns to Paris in the summers. He said he feels a deep connection to France after the recent tragedies and it still takes a toll on him even though he no longer permanently lives there.
"Even if it's far away, just because I know a lot of people there, it still concerns me… seeing all the terrible news" Hong said.
Notre Dame is perhaps the most famous cathedral of the Middle Ages. Approximately 13 million people visit the church every year.
Father German Sanchez, the chaplain of the French-speaking community in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said there was a lot of pain felt in the local Catholic community Monday.
"It was like we had somebody of our family suffering or hurt," Sanchez said. "Then, today I am very happy because I realized that all around the world there was a beautiful solidarity. We have many messages from all people around the world, not only the believers, but even the people who don't believe in God. They were touched by this accident."
The accident happened less than a week before Easter Sunday. But Sanchez emphasized that the cathedral is more than a religious monument.
"Notre Dame is a place where everybody is comfortable. You can go in, you don't pay for it. You can go inside, you don't need to show your passport, your identity or your religion," Sanchez said."Everybody is welcome there. I saw people crying, I saw people praying, I saw people listening in silence. I think it's a beautiful place where everybody is welcome."
Like Macron, Sanchez is eager to see the cathedral rebuilt. For years, he has led pilgrimages to the important Catholic site.
"The reaction of all of us is that we need to continue, and we will rebuild Notre Dame," Sanchez said.
Katherine Wiles, Maya Zaleski and Sasha Urban contributed to reporting.