As Paris firefighters battled the blaze, part of the spire of the 12-century monument collapsed.
'Everything is collapsing, ' a police officer near the scene said as the entire roof of the cathedral continued to burn.
Video from the fire shows firefighters spraying a hose from halfway up the scaffolding.
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It was not immediately clear what had caused the fire. The fire may potentially involve renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.
Others have also taken to Twitter to share their sadness at the destruction of the historical landmark. Breitbart reported in March that twelve French churches were vandalized in the course of one week. Hugo's 1831 work led to revived interest in the cathedral and a major - partly botched - restoration that began in 1844. That claim has not been verified. Witnesses said the whole island, the Ile de la Cite, was being evacuated.
One onlooker of the fire was overheard saying, "Paris without the cathedral is not Paris anymore".
A fire ripped through the famed Notre Dame cathedral Monday evening in Paris leaving people around the world in shock at the loss of the historic building.
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For Martin, as for other Catholics, it was hard not to see several layers of symbolism in the flames: The fire broke out during Holy Week, the most sacred time on the Christian calendar, at a time when the Catholic Church worldwide is engulfed in controversy over the abuse of children, and when France has seen months of public anger over rising fuel prices. We are mobilized on site in close connection with the @dioceseParis. "I urge everyone to respect the security perimeter". The French president cancelled speech to nation, and rushed to the fire scene.
Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV: "It's been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris" and its bells pealed for both "happy and unfortunate events".
Built over a century starting in 1163, Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. The stone portions of the building may survive more-or-less undamaged, but the artifacts contained within, the stained glass, the organ that dates to 1738, and the various reliquaries could be a complete loss.
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