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Notre Dame is literally the center of Paris. A Point Zero stone in front of the cathedral is the point from which all distances in Paris are measured.

The stone remains after Monday's devastating fire at the Gothic masterpiece. The magnificent structure remains as well, thanks to a plan that was put in place and followed.

The first fire alarm at Notre Dame went off at 6:20 p.m. on Monday, April 15, during evening Mass. Worshippers and tourists were calmly escorted out, and staff remained to see what was happening. At first, no fire was found, and people thought there had been a mistake.

At 6:43 p.m., the second alarm sounded, and the fire could be seen. Hundreds of firefighters took on the blaze, following plans that had been in place in case the unthinkable happened.

More: Macron wants fire-ravaged Notre Dame rebuilt within 5 years

More: Catastrophic fire engulfs Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Inside the building, the priorities had already been set: Save the irreplaceable. First, clear the people. Then the relics, the crown of thorns believed to have been on Jesus Christ's head on the cross, the tunic of St. Louis, thought to have belonged to King Louis IX, and a fragment of the cross and a nail. Finally, the artwork that could be moved was cleared. All went according to plan.

Firefighters who had trained for this specific purpose rushed up hundreds of stairs of the narrow spiral staircases inside the iconic bell towers, carrying heavy equipment. Their work would be credited with saving the entire structure. 

At 7:49 p.m., the spire that was added during a 19th-century restoration gave in and crashed through the roof of the cathedral, leaving 250 tons of lead on the marble floor and the altar. A gasp could be heard around the world.

Three hours later, the fire chief said that the remaining structure was saved. At one point, 30 more minutes of intense heat would have collapsed the bell towers, setting off a chain reaction that would have brought down the entire cathedral, experts said.

Pledges of money and help poured in. French billionaires one-upped each other with promises of checks. Concerts were planned for restoration funds. The United States offered money and experts.

By Wednesday, $1 billion was available to bring back this iconic symbol of France.

Could other things be done with the money? Of course. Many people are pointing out that residents of Flint, Michigan. still can't drink tap water, that Puerto Rico is still devastated from Hurricane Maria, that around the world children need food and medicine.

And that's all true. There are many needs in the world that $1 billion could help. 

But the soul, and the soul of a nation, also need to be fed.

It took 200 years to build Notre Dame. For 850 years, the structure has stood as the center of Paris, the gargoyles watching from high above as generations came and went. It was ravaged during the French Revolution, then restored in the 19th century. It was damaged as two world wars were fought around it, but it remained intact.

And yet an accidental fire burned away timbers that were cut a thousand years ago and changed the skyline of Paris forever.

It will take years, even decades, to restore Notre Dame, and it will never be the same. But thanks to those who were there to save it and those who will be there to repair it, the living structure will continue to stand as the irreplaceable center of Paris.

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