NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ellis Island, the patch of land in New York Harbor where millions of immigrants first touched U.S. soil, will partially reopen to the public on Monday, a year after it was submerged by Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters.
The storm destroyed the island’s electrical, communication, water and sewage systems, but otherwise left its historic buildings largely undamaged, the National Park Service said.
Repairs are ongoing, but from Monday morning visitors will be able to see its famous views of the downtown Manhattan skyline and tour parts of the immigration museum in the island’s Beaux-Arts main building, including the Great Hall that was once crowded with newly arrived immigrants.
“There’s a lot to be done,” said John Warren, a spokesman for the National Park Service. “We’re at a point where we’re able to allow the public to come in and enjoy the buildings.”
The bulk of the museum’s collection of documents and historical artifacts is still in storage in Maryland while new climate-control systems can be installed in the building.
Although the storm had dipped below hurricane force by the time it slammed into the city on October 29, 2012, it still had the power to devastate. Much of lower Manhattan was plunged into darkness for days, and the nation’s largest subway system ground to a halt.
The late-season storm killed at least 159 people, damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes and caused some $37 billion in damage along the East Coast.
Liberty Island, a short ferry ride away, was also deluged and its infrastructure similarly damaged, although the Statue of Liberty itself, high on a pedestal above the storm surge, was undamaged.
Liberty Island reopened on July 4.
The National Park Service estimated the total cost of repairing the damage done on both islands at $77 million.
After the first federal immigration station opened on the island in 1892, more than 12 million immigrants, mostly from Europe, presented themselves for inspection in its halls. Almost all of them had sailed in steerage class, while first- and second-class passengers, who were perceived to be less likely to harbor either disease or criminal tendencies, were generally allowed to continue on to Manhattan.
In 1924, after immigration laws were tightened the station was used mainly to process deportations and war refugees until it closed in 1954.
About a third of the U.S. population today can trace their ancestry to someone who disembarked on Ellis Island.
President Lyndon Johnson declared the 27.5-acre island to be part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened in the island’s main building in 1990.
Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson