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Workers rush to protect Notre Dame’s interior from its next threat: rain

Professional mountain climbers have been appointed to install temporary tarps over the building to offset potential rain damage.
Professional mountain climbers have been appointed to install temporary tarps over the building to offset potential rain damage.(Thibault Camus/AP)

PARIS — With rain expected in Paris later this week, workers at Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday scrambled to protect the building’s interior, scaling the walls with ropes to put in place giant tarpaulin coverings, the cathedral’s chief architect said.

A catastrophic fire last week destroyed the cathedral’s attic and the lead roof, creating gaping holes in the immense vaulted ceiling, and leaving the building’s interior exposed to the elements. On Tuesday, a team of workers specialized in using ropes at great heights — “mountaineers” as they are called in French — labored to install the tarps.

“We are working as fast as we can,” said the architect, Philippe Villeneuve, adding that the work was expected to be finished by Wednesday. The mountaineers are “used to working in perilous conditions,” he added. “They know this kind of work.”

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Before putting up the tarp, the workers had to install prefabricated metal beams on which to suspend it.

The job is dangerous not just because of the cathedral’s height, but also because the fire left the building unstable: No one can be certain which parts might crumble as a result of the extreme heat to which it was subjected.

“Before protecting against the rain, we’ve got to stabilize,” Villeneuve said. “Since Monday we’ve been working to secure, shore up, and protect the collapsed parts.

“We are going step by step,” the architect said. “Everything that happens at Notre Dame is out of scale. It’s like having several construction sites at several different buildings.”