Parisians and visitors have packed the areas around the famed Notre Dame cathedral, expressing shock and disbelief as they watched a massive fire engulf the iconic symbol in the centre of the French capital.

Some people bore witness to the inferno by chance on Monday evening, others headed to the scene on purpose.

All were horrified by what they saw.

“Notre Dame is the heart of Paris and I came as soon as I heard. This is our heart and it is disappearing in the flames,” Claire, a 15-year-old onlooker, told Al Jazeera, tears streaming down her face. 

“What do we have left?”

Police attempted to clear pedestrians away from the two islands in the river Seine, including the Ile de la Cite which houses the soaring Gothic church, one

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