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Newport library recovers after storm damage traps staff member inside

Meschelyn Barrett was trying to save valuable history in the Stokely Memorial Library from the rain when the ceiling fell in.

NEWPORT, Tennessee — Quick thinking by library staff in Newport saved some of the oldest history in Cocke County.

Storms that passed through June 17 heavily damaged the Stokely Memorial Library downtown.

RELATED: Storms knock down trees and utility lines, cut power for several across East Tennessee

"All the sudden we heard the noise," staff member Meschelyn Barrett said. "It sounded like something rolling across the roof...Then we heard a huge crash."

As thunderstorms rattled, a tree standing next to the library had no chance.

"Where we're sitting, there was debris," Barrett said. "It could've been us, yes."

Barrett was among several people inside on the afternoon of June 17 when the storms caused a tree to bust open the roof.

It shoveled rain onto hundreds of years of funeral records, family trees, and other historical documents.

"We started putting tarps over the different shelves we have," Barrett said.

Then it got even scarier.

"I was in a chair trying to cover the wooden cabinets here," Barrett said while pointing to a large cabinet. "The lights here came down and knocked me into this."

RELATED: Knox Co. Public Library using $100k state grant to expand popular audio and e-book collection

Police helped her get out, unhurt.

"All I was thinking about was we need to save our equipment, we need to save our books in here," Barrett said.

"You just can't get those things back," Cocke County Library Board member Pat Mason said.

Mason said insurance will cover most of the damage, but they'll have to find the money for the deductibles.

He said Barrett saved history, so the library could have a brighter future.

"All the sudden, it has brought to life the need for a new place," Mason said.

Plans for a bigger library with more parking spots were already in the works.

They found the land--now the library just needs to raise money.

RELATED: East Tennessee libraries ramp up summer reading programs

"Our staff has been shocked at just how inconvenienced and desperate--almost to a point--many of the people that come here regularly have been with the library closed down," Mason said.

The next step is for the insurance workers to arrive Monday to continue to assess the damage.

Barrett said the roof will have to be replaced.

She said the state IT department has done great work in helping the library recover so far.