NEW YORK (AFP).- The Statue of Liberty finally reopened to visitors Thursday, on the July 4 national holiday, months after Superstorm Sandy slammed into New York, causing extensive damage to the landmark.
Some tourists rose at dawn to be among the first to visit Lady Liberty, one of America's most recognizable symbols, on the festive US holiday marked by parades, cookouts and fireworks displays.
Fife and drum players heralded the reopening on Liberty Island at Manhattan's southern tip, where American flags fluttered and tourists wore patriotic garb to mark Independence Day.
"I hope this is the last reopening," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Sandy smashed into the US East Coast on October 29, just a day after the crown of the Statue of Liberty had been reopened to visitors following a year of renovation work.
Liberty Island was devastated. Three-quarters of the island was flooded, docks and railings were dislodged, power and phone lines damaged, and sidewalks were ripped up by the waves and wind.
Ahead of Thursday's reopening, crews replaced at least 53,000 bricks. But parts of the island were still not open to the public.
"The infrastructure is an ongoing challenge," National Park Service spokesman John Warren told AFP.
"It's not only that we need to restore electrical power, sewage, and all of that, but we need to place it somewhere (where) it will not be devastated by the next storm. We are rebuilding smarter."
But the remaining issues did not affect the joy of tourists and workers alike, all happy to be on Liberty Island. About 15,000 people were expected to visit over the course of the day.
"This is our first trip to New York, and this is a great way to spend July 4th," said Lolita Perkins, who reserved in advance to visit the statue's crown -- 377 steps up.
A family from Little Rock, Arkansas posed for pictures. Others in the crowd sported "I Love New York" t-shirts.
All day in Manhattan's Battery Park, long lines of people waited to board boats to Liberty Island, under a baking sun.
The total cost of post-Sandy repairs on Liberty Island and neighboring Ellis Island -- the port of entry for millions of immigrants at the start of the 20th century -- was revised up from $59 million to $77 million.
Ellis Island, hit harder by the storm, is still closed to the public, with no date set for its reopening.
The Statue of Liberty is one of the Big Apple's most popular tourist attractions. In 2011, it drew 3.7 million visitors and generated $174 million in economic activity for the city.
Lady Liberty was named a UN World Heritage site in 1984.
Created by French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, with the help of Gustave Eiffel for the interior metal structure, France gave the statue to the United States as a gift and sign of friendship in 1876.
That year marked the 100th anniversary of American independence.
Then US president Grover Cleveland dedicated the 305-foot (93-meter) statue -- as tall as a 22-story building -- in 1886.
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