Grounds Utterly Devastated By The Surge; Island May Not Open 'For Months'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Five weeks after Superstorm Sandy, it remains a sad and lonely time for one of the most famous landmarks in New York City.

As CBS 2’s Chris Wragge reported on Tuesday, the Statue of Liberty survived Sandy unscathed, but the island she lives on was so severely ravaged that it remains unsafe for visitors more than a month later.

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Arriving at the Statue of Liberty after Sandy, Park Superintendent David Luchsinger said he had a bittersweet moment.

“She was still standing there. She was still proud and defiant,” he said. “It was incredible.”

But at Lady Liberty’s feet, it was a different story. Waves and storm surge flooded 75 percent of Liberty Island, wrecking the dock and critical infrastructure.

”In the history of the National Park Service incident management system, this is the largest incident we’ve ever had to respond to,” said Mike Litterst of the National Park Service.

Sea grass marked where water crashed ashore, destroying boilers, sewage pumps and electrical systems. Walkways, fences and docks were also left in disrepair, and that was not all.

“That little house on the water?” Luchsinger said. “That’s mine.”

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Luchsinger lived on the island full-time with his wife – a setting he called both romantic and emotional. Their home was destroyed, and most likely will not be rebuilt.

“Probably not,” Luchsinger said. “These buildings are not sustainable. With sea level rise and global warming, it doesn’t make sense.”

At the concession stand, the flood destroyed 80 percent of the inventory. The owner had to lay off workers while the island remained closed to the public.

As to when it would reopen, Luchsinger said it will be a long time.

“Optimistically, I would say months,” he said. “I would not say weeks.”

The storm hit just one day after Lady Liberty’s crown reopened, following a yearlong, $30 million renovation. For now, the millions of visitors who come to see the statue will have to admire her from a distance.

Ellis Island, where the storm damaged doors, windows and exhibits in the ferry building, will also remain closed.

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Do you have any ideas for protecting Liberty Island in the future? Leave your comments below…