Statue of Liberty, shut by Superstorm Sandy, to reopen

NEW YORK (AP) - The Statue of Liberty will finally welcome visitors again, months after Superstorm Sandy swamped her little island.

Sandy made landfall one day after the statue's 126th birthday. The storm flooded most of Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Lady Liberty herself was spared, but the surrounding grounds took a beating.

Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up and buildings were flooded. The storm destroyed boilers, sewage pumps and electrical systems.

In recent months, all mechanical equipment was moved to higher ground as workers put the island back in order.

The national landmark welcomes about 3.5 million visitors every year. It will reopen to tourists on Thursday, which is Independence Day.

A gift from France, the statue was conceived to symbolise the friendship between the two countries and their shared love of liberty. It was dedicated in 1886 and welcomes about 3.5 million visitors every year.

People who purchased tickets in advance can also look out over the harbour from the statue's crown.

The damage to Liberty Island and neighbouring Ellis Island cost an estimated US$59 million (S$75 million). Some repairs to brick walkways and docks are still under way, but on July 4 visitors will arrive via ferry boats once again to tour the national landmark.

"People will have, more or less, the same access to Liberty Island that they had before," said Mr John Warren, a spokesman for the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

Security screening for visitors will be held in lower Manhattan after city officials criticised an earlier plan to screen them at neighbouring Ellis Island, which endured far worse damage to its infrastructure and won't be open to the public anytime soon.

Home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the island still doesn't have working electricity, sewage systems or telephone lines, Mr Warren said.

The museum showcases the stories of the millions of immigrants who disembarked there to start their lives as Americans. Its historical documents and artifacts survived the storm unscathed, but more than one million items were transported to storage facilities because it was impossible to maintain the climate-controlled environment needed for their preservation.

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