PARIS -- On April 15, 2019, the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire, with horrified Parisians watching as its iconic spire burned and fell to the ground.
Two years later, the beloved French landmark is still scarred, and renovation work was slowed down amid the coronavirus pandemic. The rector of Notre Dame says the burned-out Paris cathedral and its esplanade could remain a building site for another "15 or 20 years."
Two years is a blink of an eye in a restoration timeline. The Notre Dame project still in the initial consolidation phase. The actual restoration phase is expected to start next winter. But the overwhelming feeling among those who love Notre Dame is relief that the project so far has been a success.
"I can say today that the cathedral is saved. It is well secured and we can now do the huge work of reconstruction that is not going to destabilize the whole building," Notre Dame's rector, Patrick Chauvet, told the AP.
The consolidation phase costing 165 million euros ($197 million) was vital: 40,000 metal tubes from scaffolding in place at the time of the fire melted during the blaze and had to be patiently cut off the roof. The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be stabilized. In a sign of the work to come, though, 1,000 oak trees were felled in some 200 French forests this spring to make the frame for the cathedral's transept and spire - destined to be admired on the Paris skyline for centuries to come.
Notre Dame survived years of wars and revolutions.
Construction on Notre Dame - French for "Our Lady" - began in the 12th century and continued for nearly 200 years. It sustained damage and fell into neglect during the French Revolution, but received renewed attention following the 1831 publication of Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame." This led to two decades of restorations, including the cathedral's famous flying buttresses and a reconstructed spire.
It has stood, in the words of one art expert, as "one of the great monuments to the best of civilization."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.