Builders back at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris after coronavirus shutdown


PARIS (Reuters) – Construction workers were back at the burned shell of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Monday, resuming the mammoth task of rebuilding after the coronavirus outbreak forced a pause of a month and a half.

Fire engulfed the 850-year-old building on the banks of the River Seine on April 15 last year. The flames destroyed the spire and roof and, according to officials, came within 30 minutes of razing the cathedral to the ground.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild within five years but work so far has been slow. Delays were caused by toxic lead released by the fire, winter storms and then by the COVID-19 epidemic which closed the site in March.

Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the rector of the cathedral, said the work getting underway on Monday was to make the site compliant with social distancing rules so work proper could resume. He said showers for workers would be modified and changing rooms adapted to reduce the risk of infection.

“It’s true that we have lost a month and a half,” Chauvet told Reuters Television. But he said the project was on track to meet Macron’s 5-year deadline.

“That doesn’t mean that all of the restoration will be completed, but it means we will be able to enter again into the cathedral.”

He said the first task, once work gets fully underway, was to remove the tangle of metal scaffolding that melted in the fire and enmeshed itself in the structure of the cathedral.

“When that’s removed, we can say that the phase of making safe will have been completed,” said Chauvet.

Reporting by Emilie Delwarde and Lucien Libert; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Janet Lawrence