Notre Dame Cathedral inferno: 'It was heartbreaking to watch'

As the fire spread, authorities scrambled to rescue priceless art and Catholic relics from the 800-year-old Paris landmark; the mayor said the effort had been partially successful.
4:25 | 04/17/19

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Transcript for Notre Dame Cathedral inferno: 'It was heartbreaking to watch'
Of course, the other major story tonight, the first images from inside notre dame cathedral, what's left of it, and new reporting tonight that the first alarm actually went off a full 23 minutes before the second alarm. But at first they simply could not find any sign of that fire. The world stopping to watch as centuries of history went up in flames. Stunned today, seeing the damage inside, the charred remains. But also hope. Given what's still standing. The roof burned away, giving a direct view of the sky. A pile of burned debris on the cathedral floor. But you can see the cross still the statue of Mary and her crucified son. Tonight, what we did not see 24 hours ago. The efforts of firefighters racing in. ABC's James Longman is in Paris tonight. Reporter: Tonight, new images take us inside the 12-hour battle to save notre dame. With flames in the background, firefighters shooting powerful jets of water into the 850-year-old cathedral. A legion descending on the a makeshift command post outside. As fire tore across the cathedral, the fire department sending up drones for a bird's-eye view. What they saw -- the entire roof engulfed. This is what it looked before. Its nickname "The forest," built in the 13th century out of 13,000 trees. Now tinder. For hours it raged, as Paris and the world watched, gasps as the famous spire fell. Firefighters using water from the river. Their hoses trained on the church as day became night. Scaling the scaffolding, the famous gargoyles overhead. Then, a robot sent into the cathedral. As embers rained on the altar, streams of water launched deep into the pews. Firefighters staring at the smoldering wreck. A haunting scene. The pile of rubble, smoke still rising from the ashes, but above the altar, the gleaming golden cross still there. This morning, by daylight, a wider view of the destruction inside, but also of what was saved. The irreplaceable art, the glorious stained glass. Firemen are still working today to assess the damage. You can still see them there working out whether or not the building is safe. And all around us, dark ash. This is an official at the cathedral. There is no more roof. The roof has disappeared. And some water leakage is and just a nightmare. Reporter: Tonight, the timeline of the disaster coming into focus. A fire alarm sounding at 6:20 P.M. Inspectors search the building but find nothing. 23 minutes later, another alarm. That time, they see the flames, but it's too late. That 23-minute gap now part of an investigation authorities say will be "Long and complex." And then there is the scar on the city itself. ������ I spoke with rozena Crossman, an American living in Paris. There were so many people and it was -- but it was so quiet. It was so, so quiet. Reporter: It was almost like it was a vigil. Yes, it was absolutely a vigil. There was a woman behind me sobbing into her phone. A lot of people were on the phone to their families. Reporter: But tonight, the world famous towers are still standing. So many of notre dame's priceless treasures rescued by firefighters, bundled up safely, loaded onto trucks. Among them, some of christendom's most cherished relics. Jesus' crown of thorns snatched away from the flames. Paris now morning what was lost, but thankful for what was saved. And cheering for the modern day guardians of their history. So many people applauding the firefighters there in Paris. James Longman reporting in from Paris tonight. And James, we know the French president, Emmanuel macron saying he hopes notre dame can be rebuilt within five years. And the staggering amount of donations already coming in. Reporter: Truly extraordinary amounts of money. In over 24 hours, over $700 million has been pledged for the restoration of this place, including individual donations of $100 million and $200 million. This is truly a global call to action that is really being heard. Crust an incredible response. James Longman, thank you. Back here at home, and with

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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