KEARNEY — It was 3:30 a.m. Tuesday when Janet Wilke, dean of the University of Nebraska at Kearney library, got the call.
She rushed to the Calvin T. Ryan Library and cautiously walked into the dark building.
Wilke walked between the stacks of books on the second floor. Her feet squishing through nearly half an inch of water on the carpet.
“It was pretty devastating,” she said.
“Catching my breath and thinking about it — when I got the call that the roof was gone, I totally expected to walk in and see the sky. And that was not the case.
“It could have been so much worse.”
The library sustained significant damage during Monday night’s storm.
Parts of the roof were torn from the building by 70-plus mph winds, which allowed rain to enter the building.
About 6,500 books were damaged, carpet was saturated with water and the wireless Internet system was damaged, Wilke said.
UNK staff and student volunteers spent nearly eight hours Tuesday stacking library books to begin letting them dry and cleaning up debris.
Staff reconvened at the library Wednesday and spent another eight hours cleaning up the damage, Wilke said.
The cost of the damage is unknown at this time, Wilke said.
But repairing the damage to the library could take until the fall.
“Until we can say this is totally behind us will certainly be into the fall,” Wilke said.
“We’re probably lucky in that we’re close to the end of the semester and we’re going into the summer so we’ll have some time.”
The books were transported to Cash-Wa Distributing Co. where they are being kept in freezers.
Tom Henning, president of Cash-Wa, said the company was happy to store the books for the university.
“We had a call from the university and they wanted to know if we could store them in our freezer facility,” he said. “There’s something about the cold temperature that facilitates drying out the books and restoring them somewhat to a condition where they’re usable again. I’m not sure what the science is, but our team said yes. We happened to have the space.”
Freezing the books prevents mold, Wilke said.
“We wanted to freeze our damp books to prevent any further damage to them,” Wilke said. “They were a tremendous amount of help. I’m not sure what we would have done without them.”
Freezing the books to stop the damage and prevent mold gives UNK the opportunity to have some time to decide what it’s going to do, Wilke said.
She is unsure how long the books will remain in the freezers.
The library re-opened Wednesday with limited access to the second floor. Book shelves are covered in plastic and caution tape blocks damaged areas.
“We had a priority to open as soon as possible. We are just a few weeks away from finals week. Our students needed to get back in here so we could help them out with their final projects. That was our priority,” Wilke said.
Although thousands of books were damaged, she said, the computer system received little damage.
“We had no computer damage with the exception of our wireless system,” Wilke said. “Part of that is back up. Part of it is damaged too heavily to bring it back up right now.”
More water is seeping into the building as the snow and ice on the roof melts, Wilke said.
“We’re not taking down the plastic sheeting, maybe not until next week,” she said.
The carpet, Wilke said, is badly damaged from the storm.
“It is saturated, and the concrete below it is wet,” she said. “There’s the issue of moving the big stacks.”
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