By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Ferries full of tourists. It’s a sight not seen here in a year, since damaging floods from Superstorm Sandy forced Ellis Island to close. Today’s reopening gave tourists a chance to take a journey back in time to the place where millions of immigrants first descended on American soil more than a century ago.
“The chance to walk in my ancestors’ shoes, that’s what I’m looking forward to. Just walking through there and seeing if I see one of their names,” said Cathy.
“We have family that came through here,” Karen said. “It’s very emotional to be here standing on this ground.”
It’s also a special day for the National Park Service because rangers and other staff have worked hard over the past year to clean up and repair the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.
“The water was up to this height. In fact, when we came back we couldn’t get into the basement because the water was up that high,” said National Park Service Superintendent.
“And it literally flooded out the entire facility so we lost everything down here. The damage was extensive. We lost all HVAC systems, electric, mechanicals, telephone service, data entry, our servers, everything went down.”
More than 1 million photographs and other artifacts escaped Sandy’s wrath because they were moved to a storage facility. They will be brought back as soon as the heating and cooling system is in place and running.
“We lost it all. We’re replacing it more sustainably. A lot more sustainably. It’s taking us 18 months, $21 million. It’s going to take us two to four weeks and about half a million dollars if we have another storm like this, so we’re prepared.”
Advocates say protecting and improving this site is critical because of its rich history.
“This is a treasure for everyone. Everybody has a story about Ellis Island, whether it’s family or tourists visiting. Everyone wants to see Ellis and where America really started. This is the first place people stepped off the boat on American soil,” said Pete Lillo of Save Ellis Island.
There’s also a long-term plan in the works. The goal is to rehabilitate many of the remaining buildings on the island, most of which are located on the Jersey side. The estimated price tag is about half a billion dollars, a worthwhile investment say advocates who consider this historic site priceless.