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News Wrap: Lady Liberty Reopens for Independence Day After Sandy Devastation

July 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  Americans across the country and around the world gathered today to celebrate the nation’s 237th anniversary of independence from Great Britain.

For the first time since Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York last fall, visitors were allowed to climb up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty this Fourth of July holiday.

RICK PERKINS, Tourist:  It’s the first time we have been to New York City and thought it would be really nice to be here on July 4 to see the Statue of Liberty. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The iconic landmark had been closed since the storm battered Liberty Island, where the statue stands.  The force from Sandy ripped up docks and walkways, and left most of the island underwater.

But, today, after months of around-the-clock repairs, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined federal officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Meanwhile, on nearby Coney Island in Brooklyn, a somewhat less sacred symbol of the American holiday, the hot dog, was the subject of the 98th annual Nathan’s competitive eating contest.  But at most cookouts, non-competitive eating was the norm as Americans gathered for picnics around the country.

In Washington, there was plenty of red, white and blue at the National Park Service’s annual parade down Constitution Avenue.  At George Washington’s Mount Vernon on the banks of Potomac River, crowds enjoyed early daytime fireworks, ahead of tonight’s show on the National Mall.

In his weekly address, President Obama urged Americans to live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence and thanked U.S. troops around the world. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  You have defended us at home and abroad.  And you have fought on our nation’s behalf to make the world a better, safer place.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Some of the 68,000 U.S. troops stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, celebrated the holiday with song.  And at Bagram Air Base, outside of Kabul, more than 30 troops took the oath of citizenship.

Some military bases in the U.S. were forced to cancel or scale back celebrations because of the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.  One place the celebrations didn’t stop was Boston, where security was tight as large crowds gathered for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings in April. 

Crews at the scene of a deadly wildfire in Arizona made progress today containing the blaze.  The Yarnell fire burning northwest of Phoenix is now 45 percent contained, with nearly 700 firefighters working around the clock.

Fire information officer Suzanne Flory described the operation’s main focus today.

SUZANNE FLORY, Fire Information Officer:  We’re going to continue doing what we call a mop-up, making sure hot spots are out around structures.  And we’re doing this maybe even a little more than we normally do because there are so many structures involved.  We want to make sure that those areas are clear so that folks can get back home as soon as possible.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  At the same time, an investigation into the deaths of 19 firefighters in Yarnell over the weekend is already under way.  Initial autopsy findings released today showed the firefighters died of burns and inhalation problems.

Chrysler announced five separate recalls that affect 840,000 vehicles.  Most of them are in the U.S.  Four of the recalls involve electronic issues, but the largest is a recall of 490,000 cars and SUVs that have problems with their active-restraint headrests in rear-end collisions.  Since June, Chrysler has issued 12 recalls involving some 4 million vehicles.

A family dispute over the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela deepened today.  The remains of his three deceased children were reburied at their original grave site after a court order.  Mandela remains in the hospital on life support, in critical, but stable condition.

We have a report from Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER:  The Mandela cortege arrived back in Qunu this afternoon.  And, having been dug up twice now, the remains of three of Nelson Mandela’s children were laid to rest for a third time back in the ancestral graveyard.

There’s an urgency to this.  Court papers now reveal that doctors have advised the family it’s time to turn off the life support.  The chief of the clan, Nelson Mandela’s heir, Mandla, is on the warpath there.  Twenty miles down the road, in Mvezo, he lashed out at his feuding family, which has inflicted a humiliating legal defeat on Mandela in the battle for the bones and where the great patriarch should be buried.

MANDLA MANDELA, Grandson of Nelson Mandela:  It seems like anyone and everyone can come and say, I am a Mandela, and demand to be part of the decision-making in this family.

JONATHAN MILLER:  In court, Mandla’s aunt, Makaziwe Mandela, and 15 other family members accused him of illegally exhuming the remains.  He’s branded her a shameless profiteer and accuses Makaziwe of suing her dying father for control of his money.

Yesterday, police forced their way into Mandla’s estate in Mvezo in the hunt for bodies.  He’s built a palace and cultural village here.  The rest of the family suspect he wanted his grandfather buried here too in a Mandela theme park.  Mandela denies this.  He’s says it’s the rest of the family that’s cashing in on the Mandela brand name.

So the great reconciliator who taught a whole nation not to fight powerless now to do anything about his own warring family, and, thankfully, it seems, unaware.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Mandela has been hospitalized since early June for a recurring lung infection.