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Local resident in Paris, sees country in mourning

NATCHEZ — Clayton resident Ruben Smith didn’t see the flames from the fire at Notre Dame, but he did witness first-hand a country in mourning as the blaze consumed the world-famous Gothic cathedral.

A 2017 graduate of Sicily Island High School, Smith has been studying abroad at the University of Angers in France through a program at Northwestern State University on Natchitoches, Louisiana. He has been in France since January and will be there until May when he returns home.

Angers is approximately three-hours from Paris. Smith was in Paris Monday and actually visited Notre Dame while visiting the landmarks of the city.

“We took spring break off for Paris, and then this happens,” Smith said from his AirBnB. “I wasn’t around (Notre Dame) when it happened. We had just gotten back from the Louvre when it broke out.”

Smith said he had just sat down when one of his friends got a text message about the news.

“I looked, and there, on the screen of my phone was the roof on fire,” Smith said. “We kept updating our phones as there isn’t a television in our room, and we watched in horror as the steeple collapsed with the roof.”

Smith said when they were at the church earlier in the day, before the fire, they saw a lot of construction around the building.

Smith said they went to a restaurant and watched President Emmanuel Macron arrive at Notre Dame and watched firefighters battle the blaze for about an hour. At that point the fire had reached the church’s bell towers, Smith said.

Some customers, Smith said, talked but most of the people in the restaurant sat in silence watching the television screen.

Smith said the people of France seem to be “defeated” by the tragedy.

“They watch in sadness as a monument of history and religion topples helplessly into the fire,” Smith said. “(Reporters) were interviewing people who were around the Cathedral when it began and they were frantic, crying and most of all, devastated.”

Smith said the events have made the day seem surreal.

“Artworks and so much history was lost by such an event like this — something so terrible and crazy,” Smith said.