Nova Scotia

French ambassador learns of Notre-Dame fire during Halifax visit

Kareen Rispal was in Halifax on Monday when her phone lit up with messages from friends, and she looked down in disbelief at the images of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris burning.

Kareen Rispal says she's grateful for outpouring of support from Canadians

Sparks fill the air as Paris Fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre-Dame Cathedral burns in Paris on Monday. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

France's ambassador to Canada was in Halifax on Monday when her phone lit up with messages from friends, and she looked down in disbelief at the images of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris burning.

But along with Kareen Rispal's sense of "deep loss" is gratitude for the flood of messages from Canadians asking if they can help by donating money to restore the cathedral. She said an official donation website will be launched in the coming days.

"People have been so supporting all around the world and it is really comforting because we need this support," Rispal said Tuesday in an interview.

Born and raised in Paris, Rispal said she lives near the cathedral, a historical and religious landmark in the city that is "really a part of who I am."

"It feels like a deep loss because it will never be recovered. The president expressed he is willing to restore the cathedral but we know that some pieces of art are lost and la flèche [the spire] has been burned and fell. It was horrific to watch," said Rispal.

While the ambassador was in Nova Scotia when she learned the news, there were people from the province who witnessed first hand the fire that tore through the cathedral.

Ambassador Kareen Rispal is grateful for the support France received from the world. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Morgan Farrell, who grew up in Wolfville, N.S., was on a vacation with his fiancée in Paris. They were in their hotel room when they learned about the fire.

"All of a sudden Sarah, my partner, just said, 'What's that smell? Something's on fire,' and I looked out the window and it was the Notre-Dame, directly outside our hotel window," Farrell told CBC's Mainstreet.

He said burning chunks of wood the size of golf balls were falling on the crowd on the street.

Farrell said he and his fiancée had planned to visit the cathedral before returning to Canada.

Phil Comeau, a filmmaker from Clare, N.S., was in France for a film festival. He learned of the cathedral fire within 20 minutes of arriving in Paris.

People kneel on the pavement as they pray outside watching flames engulf Notre-Dame Cathedral. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Comeau watched the fire for four hours from a spot along the Seine River.

"It was quite moving, some people were crying, some were singing and some were leaning down praying. It was thousands and thousands of people there endearingly," Comeau told CBC's Information Morning.

He said the atmosphere in Paris changed because of the fire.

"The city feels quiet," he said. "I just went to a restaurant and people are quieter."

Comeau said he planned to go back Tuesday afternoon to see what is left of the Cathedral.

With files from Amy Smith and CBC's Mainstreet and Information Morning

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