DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) — After just a few texts, Candice Pauwels saw one of her country's proudest monuments disappear into a cloud of smoke.

"I woke up this morning like a normal day and I saw many texts from my parents," Pauwels said. "I was kind of sad for sure. It's like the core of Paris. It's very famous so everyone knows Notre Dame in France."

Pauwels is a foreign exchange student at Millikin University. She originally hails from Paris and has visited Notre Dame several times.

Kevin Cohen has too. He took his PhD in linguistics to Paris to work as a researcher and lecturer. Some of his extended family lives in central Illinois.

"All evening, I heard the fire engines go by," Cohen said. "Everyone I know was sitting in front of their TVs all evening."

More than 800 years of history turned to ashes and embers. But Notre Dame is more than the history or even the religious significance.

"It's very deeply embedded in, not just the historical, but the emotional heart of [France] for everyone — regardless of what your religion is."

As the smoke settles and firefighters survey the damage, Pauwels hopes this isn't the end. She hopes a mighty cathedral will once again rise from the ashes.

"I hope they are going to build on [what's left] or try to imitate [the original cathedral] at least," she said.