(WASHINGTON) -- With its cracks repaired and scaffolding gone, the Washington Monument is finally open again.
Nearly 33 months after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia left the 555-ft.-tall obelisk cracked and closed to the public, the National Parks Service reopened it during a ceremony on the monument’s grounds Monday morning, allowing the first visitors to travel to the top since the earthquake hit.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thanked Parks Service employees and the contractors who repaired the monument for fixing it "safely, structurally sound, on time and on budget."
Al Roker hosted the ceremony, which drew a couple hundred spectators on a warm, sunny morning.
On Aug. 23, 2011, the monument sustained damage from the earthquake, epicentered in central Virginia, that also damaged the National Cathedral. Shaking was reported as far as Minnesota, Texas, South Florida, and Canada, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A helicopter inspection revealed cracks at the top of the monument, which has been closed to the public ever since. Scaffolding has remained around it during repairs. Slowly, that scaffolding began coming down in the fall.
The earthquake left a crack at the top of the monument and many smaller ones throughout.
Surveyors rappelled down the faces of the monument to inspect damage, and contractors did the repairs: about 665 total feet of crack repairs, 14,185 feet of mortar repairs, and 52 new steel supports for interior panels, according the Trust for the National Mall, a campaign to raise money for Mall restoration.
Repairs cost $15 million. Federal taxpayers footed $7.5 million of it; the other $7.5 million was paid for by Trust co-chair David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a DC-based asset-management firm that manages $199 billion across 120 funds. Rubenstein has said he wants donors to follow a model of “patriotic philanthropy.”
At the ceremony, Rubenstein called his donation a "symbol of what I think other Americans can do with their money."
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray recounted where he was when the earthquake hit. "I was on the Mall when the earthquake hit, and the vehicle I was in started to shake, and I turned to the driver and said, 'Man, can't we afford to get a tuneup on this car?'" he said.
The first visitors to the top of the monument included wounded soldiers and a group of local school children.
Public tours of the structure begin Monday at 1 p.m. Tickets, which are required for entry, are available on a first-come, first served basis.
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