NEW YORK -- The Statue of Liberty finally reopened on the Fourth of July months after Superstorm Sandy swamped its little island in New York Harbor as Americans across the country marked the holiday with fireworks and barbecues.
A large crowd gathered for the holiday and ribbon-cutting ceremony at Liberty Island with federal officials and New York's mayor. Lines stretched blocks long for the boat, which left from Battery Park in Manhattan starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Rodney and Judy Long, of Charlotte, N.C., were the first people in line for the boat called Lady Liberty. They couldn't get tickets to climb up to the top of the statue, but they were just glad to be there for the big reopening, they said.
"It's perfect timing for it to reopen. It's really a symbol for what the country is all about," Rodney Long said.
Heather and Chris Leykam traveled to the statue from Brooklyn with their three kids: Avril, 7, Delilah, whose 6th birthday is Thursday, and Finn, 1. The family thought it would be great to celebrate Delilah's birthday at the Statue of Liberty.
"This to us, Liberty Island, is really about a rebirth," said Heather Leykam, whose mother's home in Breezy Point was destroyed during Sandy. "It is a sense of renewal for the city and the country.”
Some repairs to brick walkways and docks are still underway, but much of work has been completed since Sandy swamped most of the 12 acres of the national landmark.
The statue was spared in the fall storm, but Lady Liberty's island took a serious beating. Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up and buildings were flooded. The storm destroyed electrical systems, sewage pumps and boilers. Hundreds of National Park Service workers from as far away as California and Alaska spent weeks cleaning mud and debris.
Visitors to Lady Liberty went through security on lower Manhattan after city officials criticized an earlier plan to screen them at neighboring Ellis Island, which endured far worse damage to its infrastructure and won't be open to the public anytime soon. The damage to both islands was $59 million.