Thursday September 19, 2019
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Short-Circuit Likely The Cause of Notre Dame Fire, Claims Police Investigators

"It's a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,''

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firefighters who saved Notre Dame Cathedral
Members of Paris Firefighters' brigade enter the security perimeter to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019. France paid a daylong tribute Thursday to the Paris firefighters who saved Notre Dame Cathedral from collapse. VOA

Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday, as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.

A judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.

The cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, third left, and other officials listen to cello player Armance Quero during a ceremony in front of the Paris city hall, April 18, 2019.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, third left, and other officials listen to cello player Armance Quero during a ceremony in front of the Paris city hall, April 18, 2019. VOA

The police official would not comment on an unsourced report in Le Parisian newspaper that investigators are looking at whether the fire could have been linked to a computer glitch or the temporary elevators used in the renovation work, among other things. The prosecutor’s office said only that “all leads must be explored.”

Temporary structure proposed

Since the cathedral will be closed to the public for years, the rector of the Catholic parish that worships there has proposed building a temporary structure on the plaza in front of the Gothic-era landmark, and City Hall gave its approval Thursday “subject to technical restraints.”

“The rector has no cathedral for the moment. … But I’m going to try to invent something,” Bishop Patrick Chauvet said.

A crypt containing vestiges dating from antiquity is located under the vast esplanade.

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants Notre Dame to be restored in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris is hosting. Restoration specialists have questioned the ambitious timeline, with some saying it could take three times that long to rebuild the 850-year-old architectural treasure.

Honoring the firefighters

Earlier Thursday, Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving fire at Notre Dame for nine hours starting Monday evening, preventing the structure’s destruction and rescuing many of the important relics held inside.

Emergency service personnel walk at the Elysee Palace in Paris after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019.
Emergency service personnel walk at the Elysee Palace in Paris after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019. VOA

“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”

The cathedral’s lead roof and its soaring spire were destroyed, but Notre Dame’s iconic bell towers, rose windows, organ and precious artworks were saved.

Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.

Paris City Hall also held a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Thursday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Remarkably, no one was killed in the blaze that broke out as the cathedral was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.

Securing area, cathedral

A large swath of the island in the Seine River where Notre Dame is located was officially closed Thursday by police, who cited “important risks” of collapse and falling objects. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.

A crane hoists scaffolding past gargoyles outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019.
A crane hoists scaffolding past gargoyles outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019. VOA

Meanwhile, workers using a crane removed some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, to keep them from collapsing since they were no longer supported by the roof and its network of centuries-old timbers that were consumed by the inferno.

They also secured the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s rose windows with wooden planks.

Saving history

Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who told the Le Parisian daily he was able to save the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he was especially proud “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral — a reference to the Catholic belief that consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.

An earlier report credited Fournier with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, but Fournier told France Info Thursday he arrived after rescuers had already broken the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code needed to unlock it finished the job. He praised the action that preserved “this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”

Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, Jean-Marc Fournier, center, waits at the Elysee Palace in Paris prior to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019.
Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, Jean-Marc Fournier, center, waits at the Elysee Palace in Paris prior to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019. VOA

Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers.

“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”

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Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.

“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said. (VOA)

 

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Reported Cases of Sexually Transmitted Disease Up by 70% in Europe Since 2010

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem

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sexually transmitted disease
A nurse takes blood from a man for a free HIV test on a bus in Tehran, Dec. 16, 2015. VOA

Syphilis cases have soared in Europe over the last decade and become, for the first time since the early 2000s, more common in some countries than new cases of HIV, health experts said Friday.

Reported cases of the sexually transmitted disease are up by 70% since 2010, a report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed, with the rise driven by more unprotected sex and riskier sexual behavior among gay men.

“The increases in syphilis infections that we see across Europe … are a result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV,” said Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections.

The European report comes after the World Health Organization said last month that around a million people each day worldwide catch a sexually transmitted infection.

sexually transmitted disease
FILE – A billboard above a gas station, April 1, 2016, promotes testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The number of cases of STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – in California reached a record high in 2017. VOA

Left untreated, syphilis can have severe complications in men and women, including causing stillbirths and newborn deaths and increasing the risk of HIV. Syphilis was one of the leading causes of baby loss globally in 2016.

The Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors health and disease in Europe, said that overall, more than 260,000 syphilis cases were reported from 30 countries from 2007 to 2017.

In 2017, syphilis rates reached an all-time high with more than 33,000 reported cases, the ECDC said. This meant that for the first time since the early 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

But the problem varied significantly by country, with rates more than doubling in five countries — Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta — but dropping by 50% or more in Estonia and Romania.

sexually transmitted disease
Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. Pixabay

Close to two-thirds of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 where sexual orientation was known were in men who have sex with men, the ECDC report said, while heterosexual men contributed 23% of cases and women 15%.

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The proportion of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men ranged from less than 20% in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to more than 80% in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. “To reverse this trend, we need to encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and casual partners,” he said. (VOA)