LIBERTY ISLAND — The Statue of Liberty was reopened to visitors on the Fourth of July, eight months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed her island and left the monument closed.
The Independence Day opening brought scores of excited tourists to the island, looking to celebrate with the world famous symbol of freedom.
Louisiana locals Sheryl Freyou and her daughter Katelyn planned their trip to the city months ago, particularly to spend the holiday on Liberty Island.
“It just solidifies why I’m proud to be an American,” said Freyou, 43, adding that the statue signifies “freedom” and “sacrifice” to her.
“It’s beautiful,” said 18-year-old Katelyn. “I can’t believe I’m here.”
For many, the statue’s Fourth of July opening was a happy coincidence with their vacation plans, like the Belvel family that has been on a cross-country road trip for more than two weeks and plans to see about 33 states.
While they did not know the statue was opening on Independence Day, they knew where they wanted to spend the holiday, said Stephanie Belvel, who lives in Arizona.
“We said, ‘Where do we want to be for the Fourth of July? New York City,” said Belvel, who is traveling with her two children, her husband and her parents.
Liberty Island closed for reconstruction on Oct. 29, just one day after the statue celebrated her 126th anniversary, said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, at an opening ceremony, Thursday.
Lady Liberty was unscathed during the storm, but Sandy pummeled the island’s docks, energy infrastructure on Ellis Island and the security screening system.
The repairs to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, which remains closed, were estimated for about $77 billion, Jarvis said.
While there are still repairs to be made on the island, Jarvis anticipates they should be completed by the fall, he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other officials gathered on Liberty Island to celebrate the reopening, which included a performance of "God Bless America" from The Sopranos actor Dominic Chianese, under a fluttering Star-Spangled Banner and a blazing hot sun.
The Statue of Liberty “has just been an unforgettable experience for generations of visitors,” Bloomberg said.
Crowds of tourists and visitors spent the holiday exploring the newly reconstructed island, but many also recognized the importance of the occasion.
Joel Ranan, who was visiting from San Francisco with his wife, Janine, and daughter, Angelene, 10, celebrates Independence Day in a different city every year with his family.
After hearing that the statue was opening today, they knew it would be the perfect destination, he said.
Looking at his daughter, Ranan added, “I just hope she remembers it for her life.”