Notre Dame work continues as billionaire donors delay cash

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Debris still litters the floor during the first Mass being celebrated in a side chapel, two months after a devastating fire engulfed the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, Saturday June 15, 2019, in Paris. Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris, wore a hard-hat helmet, burnt wood debris was still visible and only about 30 people were let inside, but Notre Dame Cathedral on Saturday held its first Mass since the devastating April 15 fire that ravaged its roof and toppled its masterpiece spire. (KTO via AP)

PARIS (AP) — The billionaire French donors who promised flashy donations to rebuild Notre Dame after a devastating fire haven't paid a penny yet toward the restoration of the French national monument.

Instead, it's been mainly American and French individuals, via charitable foundations at Notre Dame, who have made the first donations, paying the bills and salaries for the up to 150 workers employed by the cathedral since the April 15 fire. This month, the foundations are handing over the first private reconstruction payment of $4 million.

Almost $1 billion was promised by France's richest families and companies, but officials say those donors are holding back, waiting for plans to become more concrete so they can choose where their money is spent.

Meanwhile, rebuilding has been continuing around the clock for weeks. Workers are creating a wooden walkway to gain access to the 250 tons of burnt-out scaffolding that had been installed for the ill-fated restoration of the spire. They will remove that, and replace the existing plastic protection with a bigger, more robust "umbrella" roof to begin the roof and vaulting reconstruction.

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Two workers have been dedicated to cleaning toxic lead dust from the forecourt. Cathedral officials say they will partially open the forecourt to the public by the end of June so tourists can once again see the cathedral's facade.

They are considering moving one of Notre Dame's most famous statues, the Virgin of Paris, temporarily into the forecourt for display, perhaps in a glass cabinet. Cathedral officials say 14 million people visit Notre Dame each year, and tourist guide groups are still passing through the Ile de la Cite, the island on which Notre Dame is located.

For more, check out the latest edition of "Get Outta Here," the AP's travel podcast.

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