Ellis Island suffered severe damage when water from New York harbor inundated the entire island during Hurricane Sandy. Even though repairs are still in progress, visitors can once again visit the landmark site. NY1's Jon Weinstein was there with some of the first visitors to make the trip.
Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy caused severe damage to Ellis Island, the historic landmark that was the gateway to America for millions of immigrants, reopened on Monday.
There’s no doubting how much this place means to people like Karen Bisson, one of the first to visit the island after it reopened.
“This is where people entered America, you know this is where they came in and started their lives new and fresh, it's just very emotional,” she said. “I never thought I'd be here”
It took nearly a year for that to happen. Sandy spared the island its historical artifacts, but destroyed the electrical and heating and cooling systems.
There were other serious challenges.
“There was debris about this high, seaweed, dirt, everything piled up here, so this was all cleaned out and remediated,” said Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Superintendent David Luchsinger. “So it was quite an extensive job.”
Even though Ellis Island is open, it’s not entirely recovered from the damage. Many artifacts are being housed in Maryland and work is still being done to repair the heating and cooling systems. That work is expected to continue through spring.
The great hall is open, as is the wall of honor and some exhibits.
“They're gonna see a little bit less, but I can tell you ultimately they're gonna see a lot more,” Luchsinger said.
Work is expected to take a year and a half and cost $21 million to completely fix the landmark. With new protections in place – including raising critical components – recovering from future storms, even storms likes Sandy, should take considerable less time and money.
“It's gonna be cut down to two to four weeks and about half-a-million dollars,” Luchsinger said.
That means students – like the ones who visited after it reopened Monday – will always have the chance to experience this special place.
“There's a historic connection from all of us,” said student Jacob Feldman. “I have a great grandparent who came here, so it’s something special.”
Some of the more than one million artifacts could return here in about a month, but even with this limited opening, Ellis Island is clearly a place worth seeing in person.