NEW YORK – The 9/11 memorial is reopening to the public a week after Superstorm Sandy flooded the World Trade Center site as it roared into New York.
The storm that claimed at least 40 lives in the city spared the core of the memorial that will again receive visitors on Tuesday morning: the reflective fountains ringed by the names of those who died in the terrorist attack.
"My worst fear on the night of the storm was, 'What was going to happen to the memorial, and the names that millions of people have come and touched?'" Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, told The Associated Press.
As he walked through the memorial site late Monday afternoon — he called it "a sacred place" — Daniels pointed to a tree that miraculously had made it through the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and also survived the storm.
Also spared were 9/11 artifacts that are to be displayed in the museum still under construction — from a piece of the north tower's antenna to an elevator motor that once propelled workers into the skyscrapers.
When Daniels first entered the memorial last Tuesday, the morning after the worst of the storm devastated lower Manhattan, "the water was pouring in with force," he said, carrying huge pieces of wood and other debris along the south side of the memorial where visitors enter. Some screening facilities temporarily housed in a tent there also were damaged, he said.
Inside the visitor center and a private entrance room for victims' families, about 4 feet of water ruined the lower sections of the sheet-rock walls, which had to be cut away.
In the unfinished museum, the water rose as high as 8 feet.
A historic, man-made disaster had come face to face with a new, natural catastrophe.
And yet, on the eve of the reopening, Daniels glanced across the waterfalls and reflecting pools set within the footprints of the twin towers as the sun set over lower Manhattan with "a feeling of strength; that's what this place is about — strength and resilience."
It had taken about a week to drain the floodwaters — as high as 10 feet in places — from the 16-acre site. Work was completed by Monday afternoon, using five huge pumps that sucked up tens of millions of gallons of water, officials said.
The memorial reopens at 10 a.m. Tuesday, closing at 4 p.m. until full power is restored to the World Trade Center site, Daniels said. Some areas, including the visitor center, still rely on generators.