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The Statue of Liberty still lifts her lamp beside the golden door, but the island that's home to the iconic statue was severely tempest-tost by Superstorm Sandy. Flood damage inflicted by the storm has closed Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island indefinitely.
On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made his first visit to the Statue of Liberty since the storm. David Luchsinger, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, led the secretary on a walking tour.
"You folks would not have been able to walk around here the first couple weeks," Luchsinger says. "It was quite devastating."
The statue itself escaped the storm unscathed. But across Liberty Island, paving stones are missing and large chunks of fence are washed away. Docks and buildings will need to be repaired or replaced. On nearby Ellis Island, historical artifacts and exhibits survived the storm intact, but underground flooding destroyed a lot of the island's infrastructure, including heating and electrical systems.
The National Park Service says these two islands alone will need $59 million worth of repairs. Add in the damage at other nearby national parks, such as Gateway National Recreation Area and Fire Island National Seashore, and the total rises to more than $200 million.
Salazar says the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island may reopen in phases as repairs are completed. "It's just a matter of working through as quickly as we can," he says. "And [trying] to get enough safety measures in place so we're protecting the public so that we can allow visitation here again."
Salazar made no promises about when the park would open. Privately, National Park Service staffers say they're hoping to reopen in some capacity by next summer.
But there's one feature of Liberty Island that may never be the same: a handful of low, brick houses on the island's back side. Park superintendent Luchsinger and his family lived year-round in one of them — until the flooding from Sandy.
"We lost pretty much everything that was in the house," Luchsinger says. "We were able to save a few pieces of furniture. We won't be living here anymore. And probably nobody will be living here anymore. So at least I'll be able to say I was the last one to stay here."
Luchsinger says those houses will probably have to be torn down. For now, Luchsinger is staying with his mother-in-law in New Jersey — but says he still thinks of Liberty Island as home.
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