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Statue of Liberty reopens to eager crowds

Sofia Dagbaborj, from Mongolia, poses in front of

Sofia Dagbaborj, from Mongolia, poses in front of the Statue of Liberty. (July 4, 2013) Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Lady Liberty -- the iconic statue who lifts her lamp to immigrants seeking her "golden door" and symbolizes the quest for freedom -- reopened on the country's birthday Thursday, nine months after being closed by the massive surge of superstorm Sandy.

"This is the Fourth of July, it's Independence Day, and it's very important for me to be here," said David Kasuga, 45, of Cold Spring Harbor, a member of the Veteran Corps of Artillery of the State of New York, as he snapped pictures.

Kasuga, a Japanese-American, said his father and uncle had been placed in Japanese internment camps during World War II, and they wanted to "prove that they were Americans."

"My father made the best of it," he said, "and like Americans, the Japanese in our culture believe in loyalty and honor and that translates into being an American."

Climbing to the statue's crown was Bronx mother-and-daughter team Chequanna Kelley and 14-year-old Ti'yanna Wilkins-Kelley.

"It was a lifetime experience . . . something we will never forget" Kelley said after making the climb in about 20 minutes. "I am afraid of heights and for me to walk up to the crown was both terrifying and amazing."

"I was worried that I would fall," Wilkins-Kelley said. "It is a very narrow staircase but amazing. It was a dream to be up there," the Cardinal Spellman High School student said.

All day long, thousands ignoring Thursday's sweltering heat continued to line up in Battery Park, snaking through the park until finally reaching the Clinton Castle ferry dock, where they were scanned at security lanes before boarding ferries.

Visitors were scanned a second time on the island before entering the statue, going by the famous Emma Lazurus poem at her pedestal that welcomes the "wretched refuse of your teeming shore" to the "golden door" where she holds her torch.

Waiting to enter the pedestal was Boy Scout Troop 399 leader Tim Riodan of Evansville, Ind. He said his troop of several dozen Scouts arrived on one of the first ferries, fulfilling the troop's tradition to visit Lady Liberty every six years.

"We're just relieved that it was ready for this year's trip," said Riodan. "This is American history -- a symbol of immigration and our freedom."

Dennis Woeher, 62, another troop leader, said, "Coming here is part of scouting and honoring God and country. It makes us proud to be American."

For the National Park Service, the reopening was the culmination of the agency's arduous effort to get the national monument ready for July Fourth.

Liberty Island reopened for its 126th anniversary the day before Sandy hit in October and forced its closing again for eight months, said Dave Lechsinger, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

"I'm a little sick and tired of opening and shutting down the Statue of Liberty," said Lechsinger at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A National Park Service spokeswoman has said though the statue didn't suffer flood damage, basements on the grounds flooded. Saltwater and mold damaged radio, electrical and phone lines, and other equipment.

National Park Service workers and contractors worked around-the-clock to replace 53,000 bricks for its walkways; and to replace its grassy knolls, and electrical and plumbing infrastructure.

"The challenge has been met," said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. "This was no small feat. . . . This is a great new day."

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