Roanokers among the throngs who saw Notre Dame Burn

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BLACKSBURG, Va (WDBJ7) What stood for centuries in Paris took just hours to destroy: The iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was laid low Monday, as fire consumed its roof and spire.

Roanoke Resident Tom Smigelski watched it happen.

"The amoUnt of flames and the billowing smoke was just visible from across the city itself," he said.

Smigelski is visiting Paris with his wife and son, the first trip the family's made to the city in 20 years. They stopped at Notre Dame just an hour before the blaze began.

"It's gut wrenching to think of something like that," he said.

It's an attitude that, Monday night, is shared by many.

"It's a loss not only for France but for the entire world," said Professor Richard Shyrocks, the director of Virginia Tech's French program.

He's authored dozens of papers and books on Paris, and points out Notre Dame survived revolutions, neglect, and two world wars. It is still the seat of the Archbishop of Paris, and was set to host Easter services in just six days. All of that, plus its status as one of the premiere examples of Gothic architecture on earth make it a mandatory stopping place for Parisians and passersby alike.
Even for Virginia Tech students.

"Well that's the thing," Shyrocks said, "you didn't have to tell students to visit it. It's a place where they would go on their own."

Monday evening, as firefighters continued to tackle the blaze, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted out "we will rebuild."

It's a sentiment that gave comfort to many in France, including Tom Smigelski. "Paris needs this," he said.