KEARNEY, Neb. — 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 squished through nearly a half-inch of water on the carpeting.
“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.”
Parts of the roof were torn off Monday night by winds in excess of 70 mph, and that allowed rain to enter the building.
About 6,500 books were damaged, carpet was saturated and the wireless Internet system was damaged, Wilke said.
UNK staff and student volunteers spent nearly eight hours Tuesday stacking library books, to start the drying process, and cleaning up debris.
Staff spent another eight hours Wednesday cleaning up, Wilke said.
The cost of the damage is unknown at this time, Wilke said, but repairs could take until fall.
“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,” she said.
The books were taken 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.
“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,” he said.
“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.
She is unsure how long the books will remain in the freezers.
The library reopened Wednesday with limited access to the second floor.
Bookshelves are covered in plastic and caution tape cordons off 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,” Wilke said.
Although thousands of books were damaged, she said, the computer system was damaged very little, except for the wireless system.
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.