When ABC News visited the Statue of Liberty in late October to see a renovation that had closed it for a year, no one could have predicted that would be one of the last looks anyone would have for a while at the great landmark. Just 48 hours later, Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast and one of its casualties was Liberty Island.
Though Lady Liberty herself was spared, the storm’s floodwaters reached the base of the statue. The storm surge tore up walkways, separated the seawall from the island, and buckled the pier where visitors arrive. The emergency dock for evacuation sustained even more damage.
Liberty Island’s power system was shot. The basement where the utilities were housed was flooded by 8 feet of water and a backup generator was destroyed.
The island’s sole residents are David Luchsinger and his wife Debbie. He is a superintendent with the National Park Service and oversees Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island. With more than 3 million visitors annually to the Statue of Liberty, the holiday season is the only time that Luchsinger and his wife pretty much have the island to themselves.
“The statue is open every day but Christmas Day,” said Luchsinger. “So on Christmas Day, there’s no boats, there’s no staff, nothing until the 26th of December. So it’s just Debbie and I and the security team,” he said.
“We celebrate here on the island. On Christmas Day, it’s very quiet in the harbor. There’s no boats coming in, and to come out here and hear the bells on the buoys in the harbor is just phenomenal. It’s really magical,” said Luchsinger.
But this Christmas will be different. Sandy’s storm surge flooded the superintendent’s home.
“It was completely trashed,” said Luchsinger. “The furniture, all of my appliances, everything, were just strewn all over the place.”
Luchsinger and his wife moved to a private home in New Jersey, and he continues to work from his office on Ellis Island, which sustained minor water damage. Repairs to Liberty Island began within the first few days after the storm. But the Park Service says the island will not open for the rest of the year and has no projected date for next year. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the cleanup and repairs will cost $59 million. He also said that a phased reopening of the site may be possible next year.
The new renovations would have allowed an additional 26,000 people to visit the Statue of Liberty’s crown every year. But for now, no tour boats are landing. The island remains empty for the foreseeable future.
But its symbolism endures. “Half of our visitors are from overseas,” said Luchsinger. “And to see people from all walks of life come here, the various emotions that take place here, from pure giddiness and excitement to people actually standing out there and crying, looking up at her. You realize that she’s not only our statue, she’s everybody’s statue. She symbolizes liberty and freedom for everybody.”
And now, the Statue of Liberty serves as the unintentional symbol of something else – of the storm that devastated much of the East Coast, and of the resiliency of so many in face of the face of such loss. A poem by Emma Lazarus is inscribed on a plaque in the pedestal of the statue, and invites other countries to send “your tired, your poor … the homeless, tempest-tost.” It now seems all too appropriate.