Recovery after a disaster is a whole community effort. FEMA is just one part of the team. We work together with an array of partners including survivors, voluntary agencies, local governments, the state and other federal agencies.
Two such federal partners are the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Transportation. They are funding and supporting repairs and mitigation work to two of America’s most treasured landmarks that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Ellis and Liberty islands bring to mind images of new beginnings, people starting another life in a nation of opportunity. The Statue of Liberty has welcomed an endless number of ships carrying tired, poor and huddled masses into New York Harbor before starting the process of becoming a United States citizen on Ellis Island.
To commemorate Independence Day, we are highlighting these recovery efforts.
The damage to Ellis and Liberty islands was substantial. Flood waters from Sandy covered 75 percent of Liberty and nearly all of Ellis. Fortunately, the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island and the artifacts and exhibits on Ellis Island were unaffected, but most of the infrastructure was destroyed.
Liberty Island experienced storm surges that led to an electrical and communications failure, washout of the Liberty Island shuttle dock, total loss of all 53,000 paver stones for the walkway and various other infrastructure issues on and around the island.
While Ellis Island was hit by the same surge, the damage affected the entire infrastructure and each building. Although the flooding did not extend beyond the basements, the power loss left the exhibits exposed to the elements because climate control was unavailable. Dozens of National Park Service staff moved over one million exhibit items down three flights of stairs and transferred them to a climate-controlled facility in Maryland to protect them from further degradation.
Promises and Resiliency
However, on July 4th, the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island opened to the public, as promised by Former Secretary of the Department of Interior Ken Salazar on March 19th. Opening ceremonies took place before thousands of visitors. This daunting task came with the support and funding of the National Park Service, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Transportation/ Federal Highway Administration for Liberty Island dock replacement.
The replacement and repairs also give an opportunity to prevent future storms from causing as much damage. The paver stones being replaced on Liberty are more sustainable, as all previous asphalt is removed and new bed layers set down to the existing concrete to create a stronger base. Expansion joints have even spacing to allow for walkways to expand and contract more easily. In addition, pieces of the granite sea wall are anchored more effectively to avoid dislodging and collapse.
Adjustments for new guidance on floodplain elevations have led to boilers and all mechanical and electrical equipment being relocated above the ground floor. Utilities will now be housed in multi-story structures and all single-story structures are being removed due to their lack of sustainability.
In May, David Luchsinger, the superintendent of Liberty Island National Monument and Ellis Island and a 36-year veteran of the National Park Service, said, “We are looking forward to welcoming our visitors from around the world back to Lady Liberty.”
Now that so many months have passed without either island being accessible, the Statue of Liberty is now open to welcome people from across the world. Perhaps Emma Lazarus’ poem captures the importance of this historic reopening as the first groups of visitors disembark from Battery Park, NY, and make their way to Liberty Island: “Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.”
To watch a video on the recovery work at Liberty islands, go to: