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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Famous New York Cathedral Burns

Aired December 18, 2001 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news for you out of New York. A popular landmark and fixture there, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, erupted in flames earlier this morning, exactly one week to the day before Christmas. This is one of the places that many people went to for comfort in the aftermath of September 11. You have you to wonder what they must be thinking right now.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is on New York's Upper West Side. She joins us now with the very latest from the scene -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, the fire is under control now. The big question is just how much damage has been done to this cathedral. There are priceless, one-of-a-kind items inside, including a stone from the cell where Joan of Arc was kept the night before she was burned at the stake.

You can see behind me this is the area where the fire erupted. They believe it began in a gift shop. Near that gift shop are some priceless tapestries. The question is have those tapestries been damaged in any way.

You can see some firefighters there trying to get some embers under control. A little bit of smoke, nothing compared to what we saw earlier this morning.

This fire began at about 6:45. Officials do not believe that anyone was inside when the flames began. It burned very quickly.

Again, the possible source of this is a gift shop inside.

Once the firefighters got here, they were able bring it under control in about three hours or so. But the interior of the cathedral was completely covered with smoke, so visibility was extremely, extremely difficult.

Now, with one week before Christmas, the question is just how much activity is going to go on. There were choruses that were planned, concerts, special events. This is always one the main areas where people come during the Christmas holidays to spend the season, and there's usually a big, beautiful Christmas tree inside and lots of children running around, singing songs.

It's just a real neighborhood cathedral. And very historical. What the cathedral tried to do is they enlisted a number of people from the neighborhood to try to build this cathedral. They taught folks from Harlem how to carve stone, so a lot of the stone masons were people who lived right in this vicinity, right in this area.

So there is clearly a sense of shock that this fire happened. The feeling, the hope, is that it was contained to such an extent that the damage is not that great, so the cathedral will be able to be used over the Christmas holidays -- Leon.

Deborah, have you had a chance to talk with any onlookers out there who may have something to say about what this might mean for that area psychologically?

FEYERICK: Absolutely. Everybody's a bit stunned that this happened. Certainly, the week before Christmas is very difficult. This is sort of a place where people congregate, where people flow to during the season, people from all religions. It is also very close to Columbia University, and I know when I was a student there, just 15 years ago, this is a place where you would you come for 15 minutes of respite and quiet during final exams. So it is a magnet where a number of folks just come, even for some peace, some quiet.

It rivals any cathedral over the world. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. And we're told that the only one that's bigger is St. Paul's Basilica, but that's a basilica -- that's why this cathedral is the largest of its kind -- Leon.

HARRIS: Thanks a lot, Deborah. Deborah Feyerick, in New York.

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