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Shock over Notre Dame fire felt by Knoxville

"Okay, what do we do now? We grieve. Let's not underestimate the blow."

"La cathédrale a brûlé hier," said French major Samantha Robinson."The cathedral burned yesterday."

French Studies students at the University of Tennessee anticipate that will be the first thing their professors say in class tomorrow.

This as firefighters in Paris worked through the night to contain a catastrophic fire at the historic Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame fire: French president vows to rebuild, seeks international help

The cathedral has been standing as an icon in Paris since the 12th century. 

While the cathedral was ravaged by the fire, the worst appears to have been avoided and its towers have been saved. The French president is vowing to rebuild what was damaged. 

Still, people around the world are still trying to grasp how much history may have been lost in the fire. That includes people in Knoxville, many of whom have special connections to the cathedral. 

To them and to many, when Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris started to burn -- it didn't seem real.

"The first thing that happens is denial. You're like, no! And the Parisians are going, no," said Knoxville Poet Laureate Marilyn Kallet.

Kallet spends a lot of time in Paris and was there during the 2015 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people. 

"How can you not think of 9/11 or the Paris attacks," she said. "So we look at the rubble and we think, okay, what do we do now? We grieve. Let's not underestimate the blow."

Kallet compares Notre Dame to 9/11 because of it's prominence as a staple structure of France.

WATCH: Emotional video shows Parisians singing ‘Ave Maria' in front of burning Notre Dame

"When you see a picture of the Paris landscape, that is gonna be one of those monuments there, and it's really sad to see that go," said UT French minor Alex Nussbaumer.

It's a sadness felt not only by those connected to France and the cathedral.

"It's extremely sad because this church has lasted so long and to see it just burning," said UT French major Samantha Robinson. "That's a piece of their history."

Notre Dame is a nearly 900 year old church.

It's truly stood the test of time.

"It's been through the Crusades," said UT French minor Aaron Northcutt. "It's been through the World Wars. It's been through the Napoleonic wars."

Now, even with repairs, the Parisian skyline will look a little bit different when Kallet goes back this summer.

"We saw it fall over today, the spire of Notre Dame," she said. "So what will I be looking at?"

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