WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Monument, long a symbol of the U.S. capital, reopened on Monday to speeches, songs and fanfare after being closed for almost three years to repair earthquake damage.
The 555-foot-high (170-meter) marble and granite obelisk, the tallest stone structure in the world, was praised by speakers at a reopening ceremony as an enduring symbol of U.S. freedoms and principles.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein, who paid for half of the estimated $15 million in repairs, were among the dignitaries who wielded oversized scissors to cut a ribbon at the event.
"And the Washington Monument is now reopened!" NBC's "Today Show" weatherman and master of ceremonies Al Roker told an applauding crowd of several hundred people on the monument grounds.
The monument, the tallest structure in Washington, suffered cracks, loosened stones and lost mortar when it was whipsawed by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in August 2011.
The temblor sent terrified tourists fleeing from the observation deck 500 feet up, and opened cracks so wide that light shined through.
After engineers rappelled from the top of the monument to inspect the damage up close, the structure was shrouded in scaffolding for months as workers carried out repairs.
The job included 665 feet of crack repairs, almost three miles of repointing mortar joints, hundreds of mortar patches and 52 metal anchors to secure the obelisk.
Public tours of the monument to George Washington, the first U.S. president, resumed after the ceremony. People started to line up for tickets at 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT) and 600 tickets were snapped up in the hour after the 8:30 a.m. opening, a National Park Service spokesman said.
The hour-long reopening ceremony included "American Idol," winner Candice Glover singing "America the Beautiful," the Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the Navy Band and a children's choir performing "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
Craig Rosfjord, 38, a tourist from Eagle Lake, Minnesota, said he was surprised the line was not longer when he went to get tickets for himself and his three sons.
"This is working out very well. This is kind of the chance of a lifetime for our family," he said.
The monument was completed in 1884 and draws about 600,000 visitors a year.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by G Crosse and Barbara Goldberg