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The next day, Hurricane Sandy swept through the harbor. From the outside, damage appeared at first to be minor. The museum, the island’s most prominent building, didn’t suffer any major exterior damage, and only a small number of panels came loose on the Immigrant Wall of Honor, just outside the museum, where the names of more than 700,000 immigrants who passed through Ellis Island are listed.
But Park Service workers soon discovered extensive flooding in the museum’s basement, which disabled the heating, electrical, sewage and HVAC systems. A medical exhibit housed in the Ferry Building, which connects the museum to the south end of the island, also suffered about $400,000 worth of damage, according to Janis Calella, president of Save Ellis Island, another non-profit support group.
Farther out on the island, damage to docks, fuel tanks, and storage warehouses left debris scattered throughout the area, making it unsafe for tourists to visit the grounds. Photographs of this damage can be seen on the National Park Service’s flickr page, which includes one image of a police boat swept inland and trapped between a trailer and a cooling plant.
“I will say from a personal standpoint, we were here on Tuesday morning after the storm and the initial reaction was ‘Oh my God, what’s happened?’” said Liberty National Monument Parks Superintendent Dave Luchsinger. “It was pretty dramatic.”
Though unharmed so far, some the museum’s invaluable archives remain in danger. An estimated 1.7 million documents and artifacts are in the process of being temporarily moved to a site in Maryland to prevent damage that could occur if they were to remain inside for an extended period without regulated climate control. Luchsinger estimated that so far, one-third of the documents have been moved.
Zitko said computer servers for the American Family Immigration History Center, which enabled visitors to search for information on their ancestors, needs to be replaced. She did not know what the cost would be, but said that the server system, which was located in the basement, will be moved to an upstairs location.
“It’s sad when you get off the boat and see the damage,” said Zitko, who visited Ellis Island shortly after the storm with National Park Service workers. “It’s such a blessing the Statue and Statue museum weren’t damaged and that the EIlis Island museum and those exhibits weren’t damaged. The repairs will happen.”