Only 50-50 chance Notre Dame Cathedral can be saved, says rector

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The rector of Notre Dame Cathedral says the Paris landmark is still so fragile that there’s a “50 per cent chance” the structure might not be saved, because scaffolding installed before this year’s fire is threatening the vaults of the Gothic monument.

Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said restoration work isn’t likely to begin until 2021 – and described his “heartache” that Notre Dame couldn’t hold Christmas services this year, for the first time since the French Revolution.

“Today it is not out of danger,” he said on the sidelines of Christmas Eve midnight Mass in a nearby church. “It will be out of danger when we take out the remaining scaffolding.”

“Today we can say that there is maybe a 50 per cent chance that it will be saved. There is also 50 cent chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, so as you can see the building is still very fragile,” he said.

View of the Notre-Dame Cathedral towers from the forecourt in Paris. EPA

Pressure rises on French authorities after an NGO files a lawsuit accusing them of failing to quickly contain the risks of lead poisoning after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris last April. AFP

This file photo taken on July 17, 2019 shows damage on the nave and rubble during preliminary work in the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral three months after a major fire in Paris. AFP

The service entrance of the construction site of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The yard has been stopped since analyzes proving an excessive presence of lead and the risks taken by the workers three months after the Cathedral was badly damaged by a huge fire last April. EPA

A worker sprays an anti lead decontamination treatment at the St Benoit Elementary School in Paris, France. EPA

Workers have started decontaminating some Paris schools tested with unsafe levels of lead following the blaze at the Notre Dame Cathedral, as part of efforts to protect children from risks of lead poisoning. AP photo

Worker directs a mechanical shovel grabbing pieces of destroyed surfacing to gather up the lead particles in the school yard of Saint Benoit primary school in Paris, France. AP photo

A worker holds a canvas bag as he takes part in a clean-up operation at Saint Benoit school near Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris during a decontamination operation over lead poisoning fears. AFP

A worker sprays a gel on the ground to absorb lead as he takes part in a clean-up operation at Saint Benoit school near Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris during a decontamination operation. AFP

Paris officials moved to downplay the risk of lead poisoning from the massive fire that tore through Notre-Dame Cathedral in April, as tests continue to show worrying levels of the toxic metal at nearby schools. AFP

A worker stands next to asphalt waste materials as he takes part in a clean-up operation at Saint Benoit school. AFP

This picture taken on August 6, 2019 shows asphalt waste materials during a clean-up operation over lead poisoning fears at Saint Benoit school. AFP

An excavator removes the ground of Saint Benoit elementary school on August 8, 2019 during a clean-up operation over lead poisoning fears. AFP

The 12th-century cathedral was under renovation at the time of the accidental April fire, which destroyed its roof and collapsed its spire. With no more roof to keep the massive stone structure stable, the cathedral’s surviving vaults are crucial to keeping it standing, but they are vulnerable.

Some 50,000 tubes of scaffolding crisscrossed the back of the edifice at the time of the fire, and some were damaged. Removing them without causing further problems is one of the toughest parts of the clean-up effort.

“We need to remove completely the scaffolding in order to make the building safe, so in 2021 we will probably start the restoration of the cathedral,” Monsignor Chauvet said. “Once the scaffolding is removed we need to assess the state of the cathedral, the quantity of stones to be removed and replaced.”

Monsignor Chauvet estimated it would take another three years after that to make it safe enough for people to re-enter the cathedral, but that the full restoration will take longer. President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants it rebuilt by 2024, when Paris hosts the Olympics, but experts have questioned whether that time frame is realistic.

Another reason it is still too dangerous to host religious services inside Notre Dame: The fire released tons of toxic lead dust, and authorities are working to clean it up and assess related health risks.

Notre Dame’s symbolism reaches far and wide. Church officials estimated 2 million people from around the world visited the cathedral during the holiday season.

Tourists can photograph it from nearby embankments, but they can no longer hear its organs or get a close view of its stone carvings and masterpiece rose windows. The vast forecourt is barricaded, barren of its Christmas tree.

But its congregation, clergy and choir are keeping its spirit alive, and decamped Christmas celebrations to the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre Museum instead.

Parishioners shared sorrow about the fire, but also a feeling of solidarity.

“I remember my mother told me that she was watching TV, and that there was a fire at Notre Dame. I told her ‘it’s not possible,’ and I took my bike, and when I arrived I was crying,” said Jean-Luc Bodam, a Parisian engineer who used to cross town to attend services at the cathedral.

“We are French, we are going to try to rebuild Notre Dame as it was before, because it is a symbol,” he said.

Updated: December 26, 2019 03:20 PM

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