With a solemn, wordless ceremony, New York commemorated the end of recovery efforts at the former site of the World Trade Center yesterday (30 May). Ringing bells, an American flag on a stretcher, Scottish bagpipes, and drums marked the conclusion of the largest recovery operation in New York City history. There is more cleanup to be done at the site of the 11 September terrorist attack, but yesterday's ceremony was meant to bring emotional closure for those whose loved ones perished in the disaster nearly nine months ago.
New York, 31 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Former mayors of New York, police and fire officials, rescue workers, and hundreds of spectators lined up as the last steel beam from the twin towers of the World Trade Center was laid on a truck for a journey away from the site known as "ground zero."
A New York City Fire Department officer began the ceremony with the ringing of a fire department bell. Then a slow-moving procession of 10 people, among them New York Police and Fire Department officers, carried an American flag folded on a stretcher toward a waiting ambulance. Five police helicopters flew in formation over the site and a pipe-and-drum band accompanied the procession.
The folded flag on a stretcher was intended as a symbol for the hundreds of victims, including police and fire-rescue workers, whose remains have not been found or identified.
The official count of the casualties of the World Trade Center terrorist attack is 2,823, but of those, only 1,102 have been identified. The search for remains will continue at a landfill on Staten Island (a borough in New York), where most of the debris has been removed to.
It took nearly 110,000 truckloads and more than 3 million hours of labor to excavate the site. Now begins the transition from recovery to rebuilding.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this week that the most pressing need for lower Manhattan is repairing the infrastructure so that power and transportation links can be restored. Bloomberg said after that is completed, a memorial should be created and the commercial aspect of the area should be redeveloped.
City officials and the victims' family members have made it clear that a long-term memorial project will take at least several years to complete. The memorial at the 16-acre site has to blend with the office buildings that are going to be built, the experts say.
In the weeks preceding the closing ceremony, repeated warnings about unspecified new terrorist attacks created some anxiety. But for the most part, New Yorkers interviewed by RFE/RL were going about their business as usual.
Vernon Riviera, a 39-year-old bicycle messenger in Manhattan, says no terrorist threat will keep him from carrying on as usual. "I'm not going to let a terrorist stop me from enjoying my life, or the threat of any terrorism. If it comes to the point when we have to walk around with the machine gun by our side -- I'm going to learn to enjoy my life and I just have to learn to enjoy it with the machine gun by my side. If I want to go sit in the park and just enjoy a nice day out -- I'm going to do that with the machine gun by my side. You know, I'm still going to live my life. I'll just have to adjust."
Elizabeth Valentino, a 29-year-old lawyer, says new terrorist attacks might be a possibility, but that in a city like New York, people always need to be on their guard anyway. "With all these threats and things happening, you're just as likely to be hit crossing the street by a car or these crazy taxis here. Any number of things can happen at any time, so this is just one more of those things. So it maybe increases the danger aspect a little bit more, but you are living with these kinds of dangers every day and what's going to happen is going to happen. What do you do, right?" she added.
Al Thomas, a 33-year-old composer, says New York is an incredible place to live and that one has to accept life with both its positive and negative sides. "There is no way to fortify all of New York City against something like suicide bombing or chemical warfare, there's just no way. Part of life is death and war and love and everything in between, [such as] kids. You just have to accept some of the negatives along with the positives in an amazing city. A few idiots [aren't] going to change that it's an amazing city to live in."
Some of those interviewed reflected on the defiant spirit of the city. A huge banner reading "We will never forget" hangs from the facade of the 40-story skyscraper standing opposite ground zero. The building is owned by Deutsche Bank and miraculously survived the attacks despite the heavy debris falling from the nearby South Tower. For many, its resolute endurance became a symbol of New York City's resolve to recover.