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ARCOLA -- It was surreal for high school English teacher Emily Coombe when pictures started circulating showing the Notre Dame Cathedral in flames.

Coombe was teaching a journalism class at the time, touching on citizen journalism's place in the world. At the same time, news organizations were reporting from tweets from people on the ground.

It was confirmed. The Notre Dame Cathedral, built in 1345, was on fire.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked," Coombe said.

She had seen the cathedral on four occasions -- in 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2015.

Every few years, Coombe has organized educational tours to Europe for students and others in the community. Every one of those tours included trips to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower.

She said when they go to Paris, those structures have to be on the itinerary. 

So, when news trickled out about an increasingly destructive fire raging through the iconic cathedral, her response was like many that had the chance to see the building ahead of the blaze.

"It was heartbreaking," she said.

It is the heart of the city in both a literal and figurative sense, she said.

Memories of peering up to see the painstaking work etched into the stain glass windows centuries ago kept coming to mind as news footage continued to show the building in flames.

It was shocking for Maggie Fulton, a former student of Coombe's, who went on the teacher's most recent tour. She was writing a paper in Booth Library at Eastern Illinois University at the time.

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"I happened to take a break and check twitter and that’s when I saw what was going on," she said. "My first reaction was that it was fake. It just didn’t seem like it was actually real or that something like that could happen."

It has been the site of numerous historical mile markers for France and the world. The building has been around for 800 years surviving a reformation, revolution, and two world wars.

"It's not that you don't think a structure like that can burn, but if it survived 800 years..." Coombe said.

It feels too commonplace an occurrence to take down such an iconic piece of history, she said.

History has weaved itself into the stonework and oak beams that make up the cathedral, and that is something that cannot be replaced, Coombe said.

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Firefighters were able to salvage much of the building, and restoration discussions are already underway. 

Coombe described the cathedral as nothing less than "breathtaking." From the floors to the oak beams that seemed to "stretch to heaven," it was something that needed to be seen in person.

The attention to detail was beyond what Fulton had ever seen before.

"The Cathedral ranked at the top of my list of places to visit, right next to the Eiffel Tower," Fulton said. "Walking up to the entrance and seeing the detail in the stone. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. You don’t see stuff like that every day."

Coombe and another group of local travelers are slated to go again in July. Coombe said she is not sure what state the cathedral will be in when she returns. In any case, she suspects it will not feel the same as those walks she made in and around the cathedral before.

It won't be like returning to the same building, Coombe said.

Photos: Devastating fire at Notre Dame in Paris

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter

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Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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