Years of dedication, planning and hard work at the George County Library have gone up in smoke. A fire Sunday damaged books, new computers and furniture the library added in early 2003.
For now the library is closed as crews tackle the job of cleaning up and salvaging what they can.
"If you stay in here very long you will start coughing," said librarian Janet Smith. "It's just a horrible smell."
The smell of smoke and the feel of soot lingers in the pages of nearly every book inside the Lucedale-George County Library.
"You can see just rubbing on the shelves that it's on the books to too," said Smith. "The books are being cleaned."
Janet Smith says the fire caused damage from top to bottom.
"They are in the process of replacing ceiling tiles that are covered with soot and smoke damage from the fire."
There are other problems. Little works except for the phone lines and the air conditioner.
"We don't have a copy machine," said Smith. "We don't have a typewriter that's workable or a computer. Everything is full of ash and soot."
The company that rid the Beauvoir home in Biloxi of ash and soot is now doing the same for the library. Using special chemicals and extra man power, they plan to clean every nook and cranny.
Gary Perone works for Service Master said, "There are 25,000 books here approximately that need to be cleaned."
He said every one will be removed, cleaned by hand, and put back.
The hardest hit area is the computer lab where after two years of planning and renovating, classes were about to begin.
Janet Smith said, "[the closure of the library] is going to be a real hardship for the people of George County because they use this library heavily. They miss us really bad. They're really upset over it."
The patrons aren't the only ones upset. During our interview Smith fought back tears.
"There's not anything we can do about it. It's something that's happened and we'll just go forward from here," she said.
Patrons can still return books to the library in Lucedale but must go to the other branches within the Jackson George County Regional Library System to check out books.
Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire and no one is sure yet how much the repairs will cost.