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The black-and-white-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been closed for the next 1 1/2 years while it is moved from its hurricane-eroded spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to a safer point farther inland.

Over the weekend, 3,000 people climbed the 268 winding steps of 208-foot working lighthouse, the nation's tallest.

It is expected to be in its new spot -- 1,600 feet inland -- by June 2000.

The land between the lighthouse and the sea has been steadily eroded, raising fears that the landmark will fall into the ocean.

The National Park Service decided to move the lighthouse at a cost of $9.8 million.

Engineers at International Chimney Corp. of Williamsville, N.Y., mapped out the move under a $1.5 million federal contract and was awarded the contact to do the work.

The lighthouse was a quarter-mile from the ocean when it was completed in 1870. By the end of World War I, waves were just 300 feet from its base. Today, the ocean is 120 feet away.

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