Cal Poly sophomore Madi Coakley was walking home to her apartment in Paris where she is studying abroad when she noticed crowds of people staring toward Notre Dame Cathedral.
Then, Coakley says she noticed the sky filling with dark smoke. What she didn’t know at the time was that Notre Dame had caught fire about 45 minutes earlier.
Coakley spoke with KSBY from Paris via Skype about witnessing the historic and tragic fire firsthand.
“I walked over and then I saw Notre Dame on fire and that was the last thing that I expected,” Coakley said.
She said she had been receiving many messages from the United States government regarding the Yellow Jacket protests that have been ongoing in Paris recently. That led her to initially fear the worst.
“I thought maybe it could have been like a terrorist attack or something like that. I wasn’t sure and I was really frightened.”
Coakley quickly walked the rest of the way home and got her roommate who had not seen what was going on at Notre Dame. Together, they went back out and watched the iconic cathedral burn.
“I stood there for about an hour watching it burn and next to me there were people crying, older French people crying and it was really just a sad day for everyone,” she said.
Coakley said the mood in Paris is somber and fewer people are out.
However, Coakley tells KSBY experiencing this event has given her a deeper appreciation for the French people, their history and culture.
In Paris, Coakley says people are grateful for the outpouring of condolences and support from around the world.