France's President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a colossal fire caused the spire of the historic edifice to crash to the ground and wiped out centuries of heritage.
About 400 firefighters battled the fire on Monday, aiming jets of water at the 850-year-old cathedral as solemn crowds watched quietly from behind police cordons.
Fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said late on Monday that the structure of the cathedral had been "saved and preserved overall" and its bell towers, at one point thought to be at risk, were safe.
Shortly afterwards, Macron said: "The worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not been fully won".
Calling the cathedral "the very centre of our lives", he vowed that France "will rebuild Notre Dame".
"Notre Dame de Paris is our history, our literature," said Macron.
"The place where we have lived all the great moments, wars and liberation. It is the very centre of our lives and we measure ourselves in Paris from the centre. This history, it is ours and it is burning. I know the sadness, internal tremor felt by so many of our citizens."
Macron added that a national fundraising campaign would be launched to restore the building.
The fire, which came as Catholics prepare to celebrate Easter, sent orange flames and clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky as stunned Parisians and tourists watched on in horror.
Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet said "we can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved" as well as the two towers.
French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault has pledged 100 million euros ($113m) towards the rebuilding of the building, according to a statement sent to AFP news agency by the CEO of the Kering group, which owns Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion houses.
The money towards "the effort necessary to completely rebuild Notre-Dame" would be paid by the Pinault family's investment firm Artemis, the statement said.
Gasps and cries of "Oh my god" erupted around an hour after the fire first broke out when the top portion of the church's spire came crashing down.
"We have been dealt a knockout blow," a stricken-looking Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit told reporters.
The cause of the blaze was not immediately confirmed. The cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work which the fire service said could be linked to the blaze.
SOURCE: News agencies