Notre Dame cathedral donations swell past $700 million mark

Donations to help rebuild Notre Dame cathedral hit the $700 million mark midday Tuesday - with two of France's rival billionaires pledging the bulk of the cash.

Just 24 hours earlier, the world watched in horror as 500 firefighters battled the blaze in Paris for nearly five hours. The extensive fire caused the cathedral's delicate spire to collapse and burn through the roof of the 12th-century building.

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Nations around the world expressed solidarity with France and offered their support for the recovery.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced an international fundraising campaign even as the fire still burned.

“Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicenter of our lives,” he said.

Macron added: “Let’s be proud, because we built this cathedral more than 800 years ago, we’ve built it and, throughout the centuries, let it grow and improved it. So I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together."

Since his comments, donations have flooded in to help rebuild the historic landmark.

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Bernard Arnault, who heads LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in France, said his family and the luxury-goods company it controls would donate $226 million to help with reconstruction costs. LVMH also offered up an army of "creative, architectural and financial specialists" to help with rebuilding.

French luxury magnate François-Henri Pinault said his family would dedicate about $113 million to the effort. Pinaut heads Kering, a group of luxury brands including Gucci and Alexander McQueen.

"Faced with such a tragedy, everyone wants to revive this jewel of our heritage as quickly as possible.” Pinault said.

L'Oreal said the company, the Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, would donate $226 million, while Patrick Pouyanné, chairman of French oil giant Total, tweeted his company would donate $113 million dollars.

Other big-money donors included Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, head of French investment firm Fimalac, who offered $11.3 million and American philanthropist Henry Kravis who also pledged $11.3 million.

Financial consulting firm Capgemini said it would donate $1.1 million while JCDecaux offered $11.3 million.

Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted the company would donate to helping rebuild Notre Dame though he did not include a dollar amount.

"We are heartbroken for the French people and those around the world for whom Notre Dame is a symbol of hope," he said. "Relived that everyone is safe. Apple will be donating to the rebuilding efforts to help restore Notre Dame's precious heritage for future generations."

On a smaller scale, the blaze prompted several fundraising efforts in the U.S.  - some a little more successful than others.

The website Friends of Notre Dame - which was set up in 2016 to receive donations to help with renovation costs - crashed after a flood of contributions came in.

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At the website GoFundMe.com, more than 50 campaigns related to the fire launched Monday, John Coventry, a spokesman for Go Fund Me told Reuters.

“In the coming hours we’ll be working with the authorities to find the best way of making sure funds get to the place where they will do the most good,” Coventry said.