NEW YORK (Reuters) - The mournful toll of a
firehouse bell, an empty stretcher carrying a U.S. flag and a
solemn procession Thursday will mark the end of the recovery
of ruins and human remains from the pit where the World Trade
Center once stood.
New Yorkers, still coping with the staggering loss of
thousands of civilians and emergency staff in the Sept. 11
hijacked plane attacks on the twin towers, reached a compromise
to honor those killed and the herculean recovery effort at what
became known as "ground zero."
Lt. John Ryan of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority
Police Department, which lost 37 members in the attacks, said
he had "mixed emotions" about Thursday's symbolic ceremony
ending eight months of grueling, sorrowful work.
"I realize at this point a lot of the people who were lost
here may not be recovered but I also look at it from the
standpoint that it has been a tremendous effort to get to the
point we're at," Ryan told Reuters Television.
The ceremony, which officials expect will draw tens of
thousands to lower Manhattan, will last just 20 minutes from
10:29 a.m., marking the minute when the second of
the 110-story buildings collapsed in a heap of crushed
concrete, steel and glass.
The details of the ceremony, including the ringing of the
New York Fire Department bell in 5-5-5-5 code -- the
traditional signal in firehouses for a fallen firefighter --
took months of planning and sometimes sparked fierce debate.
After Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the date of the
ceremony two weeks ago, some relatives said they were
displeased it was being held on a weekday.
City officials Tuesday granted a request by some family
members to hold a separate ceremony Sunday. The Fire
Department said it would hold prayer services Thursday at
all FDNY firehouses beginning at 10:29 a.m.
Bloomberg said the day was "a compromise" and "a slow
transition has been taking place between recovery and renewal."
City officials, community groups, recovery workers and
relatives of the victims all contributed ideas as everyone
strove to capture New York's mass grieving.
The bells will be followed by an honor guard of city, state
and federal agencies flanking a procession of people walking up
a ramp from the site, carrying a stretcher with an American
flag folded on top to symbolize all those who were killed but
not found. Police and fire department pipers and drummers will
march behind the stretcher before a truck draped with a black
cloth is driven up the ramp.
The truck will carry the last steel girder -- known as the
Stars and Stripes beam -- to be removed from the ruins. The
procession will pause at the top of the ramp while a lone
bugler plays the mournful sound of "Taps" followed by a
helicopter flyover. The procession will then travel 15 blocks
north along the West Side Highway to Canal Street.
There will be no speeches by public officials, even though
scores were expected to attend, city officials said.
The 16-acre site has been a beehive of activity
for recovery workers from the moment two planes loaded with
fuel for cross-country flights were deliberately slammed into
the buildings. The attacks, blamed on the al Qaeda guerrilla
network, killed 2,823 people, including hundreds of
firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel
who rushed to help evacuate the burning towers.
Eight months later, the site that was a mound of mangled
debris and ash seven stories high and eight underground, has
been cleared by workers and diggers, who removed more than 1.8
million tons of rubble in about 100,000 truckloads.
Every scrap of the buildings and every human remnant has
been taken to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island for
sifting by investigators and medical staff to identify victims.
Almost 1,800 victims have yet to be identified.
REDEVELOPMENT PLANS DISCUSSED
One survivor of the collapse of the buildings who also
worked on the recovery, New York Fire Department Lt. Mickey
Kross, said he had "very strong feelings" about the event.
"I was deeply involved in this, not only as a fireman but
as a person who was trapped in the building when it came down,"
Kross said. "I do get a sense of peace of mind when I'm there,
if I stay away too long I get fidgety. This is going to be an
experience when this ends for me."
Plans for some kind of memorial and redevelopment of the
site are being discussed and could be announced as soon as
July, city officials said.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was
established after the attacks to help guide the rebuilding, has
begun public hearings on what kind of buildings would replace
the World Trade Center. The twin towers dominated the lower
Manhattan skyline from their completion in 1973, symbolizing
New York's financial might in the world's most important
"It's very unlikely that any buildings 100 stories tall
will be built again," said corporation Chairman John Whitehead.
"People sometimes like the symbolic aspect of even higher
buildings but people don't want to work in a 100 story building