The roof of the famous structure went up in flames around 6:30 pm local time on Monday.
UPDATE: A fire that broke out at Paris’s famous Notre Dame cathedral on Monday has been contained and the structure will be “saved” according to a Paris fire official.
According to a tweet from the AFP, the official confirmed that the main structure of the historic building has been “saved and preserved,” despite the spire and roof being consumed by flames and collapsing earlier in the evening.
“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds in a speech given outside of the church Monday night.
He promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral . . . we will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny,” he said.
The blaze erupted around 6:30 p.m. Monday local time and appears to have completely consumed the landmark’s roof. The building’s towering spire has fallen and portions of the roof have collapsed, according to France 24.
A large security perimeter has been set up by firefighters. The first units to arrive on the scene included four large ladders and two aerial lift arms.
Pedestrians flooded the streets to watch the blaze, many in tears, one Paris resident tells PEOPLE. On Monday evening, a crowd gathered to sing Ave Maria near the cathedral.
André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, told the New York Times in a telephone interview that the cause of the fire is not yet clear.
Local TV network BFM-TV is reporting that the fire was “possibly linked” to the renovation of the building and began in the rafters, but there were no workers scheduled to be on the rooftop scaffolding at the hour the fire broke out.
A spokesperson for the cathedral told the BBC that the whole structure is “burning,” adding, “There will be nothing left.”
Twitter users are also documenting the horrific scene.
“It feels like the end of the world,” one user wrote. “It’s getting worse. But the fire brigade has turned up. Hard to see how [to] tackle this. The plume of smoke is already 100s of feet long.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo sent out a message to residents of the city via Twitter: “A terrible fire is underway at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The @PompiersParis [are] trying to control the flames. We are mobilized on site in close connection with the @dioceseParis. I invite each and every one to respect the perimeter of security.”
“Our Lady of Paris in flames. Emotion of a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. He has reportedly canceled a speech tonight and is on his way to the scene.
President Donald Trump also weighed in, suggesting how best to battle the blaze in a tweet. “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” he wrote.
The Catholic cathedral is located on an island in the center of the capital called the Île de la Cité, surrounded by the River Seine. The building was completed around 1260, but has been modified over the centuries.
The French Gothic building is remarkable for its stained-glass rose window, flying buttresses and large spire. The latter has now collapsed after being consumed by flames. That spire replaced the original, which was damaged by wind and removed in the 18th century. The current one was made of oak covered with lead and weighed 750 tons.
Notre Dame was the subject of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a popular animated film by Disney in 1996.
This is a developing story.