UNITED STATES

Statue of Liberty in New York reopens to the public

Visitors return to the landmark for the first time since Superstorm Sandy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 3:17am
 

Romance can be tumultuous, and no one knows that better than the Statue of Liberty. Over and over, Lady Liberty has been separated from her adoring public, most recently by an uninvited guest named Sandy who stormed through, leaving heartbreak and ruin in her wake.

For eights months, the statue stood alone in New York Harbour, but the painful break-up was pushed aside on Independence Day as visitors returned to the Statue of Liberty for the first time since Superstorm Sandy shut her down on October 29 last year. It was the third closure since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little bit tired of reopening and closing the Statue of Liberty," said David Luchsinger, the national monument's superintendent. "I think this time we'll just leave it alone."

As he spoke, hundreds of thousands of visitors swarmed Lady Liberty and her home, Liberty Island, a short ferry ride from lower Manhattan and uninhabited save for the 127-year-old woman who symbolises freedom, from her shimmering torch to the broken chain at her feet.

As the first tourist boat of the day circled the island and visitors got a close-up view of Liberty's strong jaw and steady-gazing eyes, they fell quiet. Many lowered their cellphones, stopped taking pictures, and just stared.

"She's beautiful," said Rebecca Hines. "This isn't something you can capture on an iPad."

Officials said it was literally a round-the-clock effort to get the statue reopened in time for Independence Day, which had been their goal since Sandy sent a record 4-metre storm surge over much of New York. Lady Liberty survived unscathed, but her home was trashed. The ferry docks were splintered, the electrical and sewage systems were destroyed, and the walkways and railings surrounding her pedestal were a total loss.

The National Park Service expected to spend about US$56 million to fix Liberty Island and adjacent Ellis Island, home to an immigration museum that remains closed.

But the cost soared to US$77 million as officials sought to use materials that they hope will prevent the next monstrous storm from damaging the infrastructure of the island.

The scramble paid off. Coveted tickets to visit the statue's crown, a climb of 354 stairs up a narrow, winding staircase, sold out months ago. "It's worth it," said Bev Viger, a visitor from Vancouver, Canada, who was visiting with her granddaughter, Makaela. They had scored crown tickets along with a friend, Danielle Williams, and were not deterred by the hot, swampy day.

"It's spectacular, and it's the New York icon," said Williams. "And what better day to visit?"

Since the statue, a gift from France, was dedicated in 1886, it has been closed several times. Security concerns after the 2001 attacks prompted Liberty Island's closure for three years. The island reopened in 2004, but the statue was kept closed for another two years. In 2006, visitors were once again allowed inside, but not up to the crown. It finally was reopened on July 4, 2009.

On October 29, 2011, the statue was closed for one year for upgrades to its interior. It reopened a year later, only to close after one day because of Sandy.

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