Lockdown: Notre Dame’s neighborhood isolated since fire

  • The streets around Notre Dame cathedral are cordoned off in Paris, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Since Monday’s fire, half the island in the middle of the Seine has been closed to visitors. Residents who had never met before suddenly find themselves the only customers of restaurants and cafés normally filled with tourists. (AP Photo/Nicolas Vaux-Montagny)

  • Members of Notre Dame neighborhood merchants’ association gather at Quasimodo Notre Dame cafe in Paris, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Since Monday’s fire, half the island in the middle of the Seine has been closed to visitors. Residents who had never met before suddenly find themselves the only customers of restaurants and cafés normally filled with tourists. At Quasimodo Notre Dame bar, named for Victor Hugo’s hunchback, storekeepers commiserate. (AP Photo/Nicolas Vaux-Montagny)

PARIS — The neighborhood around Notre Dame Cathedral is usually buzzing with tourists all year. Now the shops and cafés are empty and the streets eerily quiet.

Since Monday’s fire, half the island in the middle of the Seine has been closed to visitors. Residents who have the right to cross the safety cordons are the only customers for the local shops struggling with the sudden freeze to business.

The police on Thursday blocked off the area to pedestrians and traffic until Monday — and likely longer. At Quasimodo Notre Dame bar, named for Victor Hugo’s hunchback, some of the storekeepers gathered to commiserate.

“We can’t work anymore,” said Betty Touiller, who operates a boutique in the open-air flower market famous for its blossoms and caged birds. “We couldn’t even water our plants on Tuesday. Even when they showed their paychecks, my employees couldn’t get in.”

Four apartment buildings were evacuated on Cloister Street which runs along the cathedral’s northern wall and is scattered with stones that have been tumbling off the monument since Monday evening. None fell on Thursday morning, but few believe the weakened walls are stable.

The upper part of the building is no longer upheld by the lattice of beams, which burned away in the fire. The cathedral walls now lean 20 centimeters (8 inches) toward the street, although a makeshift support of wooden planks is there now, and a protective net will soon go up, according to police.

Elsewhere, the restaurants that remain open have refrigerators filled with perishables — and dining rooms void of customers.

“They’re talking years before things go back to normal,” said Patrice Le Jeune, president of the neighborhood merchants’ association.

Frederic Benami, a waiter in the neighborhood said that when he saw the spire fall, it was “like losing a member of the family.”

He lives above one of the only open establishments, “Au Vieux Paris,” which served five people on Wednesday, instead of 130 normally, according to France Info.

“We feel like we’re holed up in a camp,” said Isabelle Hugot, another neighbor. “It’s unbearable.”

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