BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Flames consumed eight centuries of priceless history in Paris as fire engulfed the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, toppling the iconic spire and burning the entire wooden frame of the Gothic structure.

Stunned crowds let out gasps as pieces of the cathedral continued to fall.

A reporter for CBS station KYW is staying at a nearby hotel. “We turned the corner and saw smoke coming not from the bell tower, but from the back of the Notre Dame and then everyone’s hearts just dropped,” said Vittoria Woodill.

Fire officials say the structure of the cathedral has been saved and firefighters stopped the flames before they spread to the northern belfry.

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters near the scene that he will seek international help, including the “greatest talents” in the world, to rebuild Notre Dame.

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking at the start of an appearance in Minnesota, spoke of the “terrible, terrible fire” that devastated “one of the great treasures of the world.”

“It’s a part of our growing up, it’s a part of our culture, it’s a part of our lives,” Trump said of the landmark.

Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. (Photo by Hubert Hitier / AFP)

Boston College French history professor Julian Bourg is closely following events in France. He says it’s a huge loss for the world.

“It’s an absolute tragedy,” said Professor Bourg. “It affects people in France. It’s a national symbol of France. For Christians and Catholics all over the world it’s a terrible loss. And for all of us around the world it’s a great sign of cultural accomplishment and beauty that’s a real tragic loss today.”

Emergency crews rushed to salvage priceless artwork from the cathedral just days before Easter Sunday.

“It’s part of our shared cultural heritage around the world,” Bourg said. “The building is 800 years old. It was created in 1160. It took a hundred years to build and it stood the test of time.”

The Notre Dame Cathedral, situated on an island in the Seine River in the heart of Paris, is one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, drawing some 13 million people each year.

Firefighters douse flames rising from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY/AFP)

French police say nobody has been killed. The cause of the fire is undetermined.

Support for France is also coming from the Boston Archdiocese, as prayers were said at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross Monday night.

“It would be a nice way to let them know that they’re in our prayers,” said Jim Mootos, kneeling in a pew half a world away in Boston.

Local church leaders opened the cathedral for people to visit and pray after the devastating fire. A message of support has been left at the altar in Boston as a show of solidarity.

“I saw it on the news today and it kind of just hit home,” Mootos said. “This church has just done a long term renovation and it was just sad to see what happened in Paris today.”

The Consulate General of France in Boston said the cathedral is part of the country’s identity. “Our hearts are breaking at the sight of Notre-Dame Cathedral in flames,” the Consulate said in a statement. “Today, our thoughts are with our compatriots in Paris and in France.”

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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