Washington Monument reopens today after 3-year break for repairs

WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - The Washington Monument is reopening to the public, 33 months after an earthquake damaged the 130-year-old stone obelisk.

It was a grand ceremony filled with patriotic music, anthems, hundreds of VIPs, and federal and local dignitaries. They even had an American Idol hit the stage!

A group of wounded warriors was selected to be the first to go to the top of the monument – Afghan war vet Tim Donelan among them:

“It's a good feeling," he says. "It's an honor, it's very cool...I'm glad to have the chance."

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake in August 2011 sent debris flying from the monument, causing hundreds of cracks and literally moving the structure.

The eventual price tag on the repair job? Approximately $15 million.

Philanthropist David Rubenstein donated half of it:

"I've been very lucky in my life and I wanted to give back to the country that's made it possible for me to be lucky, so I wanted to make a down payment on my obligation to give back to this country."

Crews spent more than a year repairing and retrofitting the 55-story monument, completing it on budget and on time.

"You look at it and you realize you were up there every day for almost a year on platforms," says project manager Mark Johnson.

Nearly 1,800 people showed up to celebrate and reflect on that August day in 2011 when D.C. shook and sent people running into the street, causing damage around the region – from Union Station to the National Cathedral.

Masons are just starting to do repairs on the east end of the Cathedral, and will reportedly need an additional $16 million or more to fix all of the damage. The repairs will cost more than the Washington Monument due to all of the repairs that must be done by hand.

After the morning Monument ceremony, the 555-foot stone monument that was once the tallest structure in the world will reopen to visitors Monday afternoon.

Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis Monday. After that, visitors must reserve tickets online, but they're already booked into June. The National Park Service is offering extended hours through the summer.

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