Kailua resident Laurent Kergall, who grew up in Paris, was at his family’s apartment near Notre Dame Cathedral when Monday’s blaze broke out.
He spoke to Hawaii News Now as the flames roared through the landmark’s roof.
“We opened the curtains and we saw the first flames on the cathedral. In a few minutes, the roof was fully engulfed in fire,” said Kergall.
He said he watched the cathedral’s iconic spire collapse in the flames.
“Everyone is really sad. We were just watching it out of the window. We were really powerless. There’s really nothing we could do just watch the horror of the building coming down,” he said.
Kergall says he’s been flooded with messages from loved ones making sure he’s OK.
The horrific destruction at Notre Dame also moved kumu hula and Manoa resident Kilohana Silve, who lived for 30 years in Paris.
“When I turned on the news, I just burst into tears. I felt it in my heart,” she said.
She also has a halau in Paris. The dancers shared a photo of the group dancing hula in front of the cathedral a few years ago.
“We just did some dancing in the street and we danced right there beside the cathedral on a beautiful summer day,” said Silve.
On Monday, she taught hula to the retired nuns at the St. Francis Convent. They prayed for Paris at the start of class.
In between dances, Silve talked of Notre Dame’s place in history and its connection to people in Hawaii and the millions who visit each year.
“It’s a place of such mana. It’s a very spiritual place. You just feel centuries and centuries of prayer going inside the cathedral,” said Silve, who is a dual US-French citizen.
She says the French have what’s called a joie de vive or a “joy of life” and she’s convinced Paris will pull together and rebuild the treasured monument.