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Tuesday 16 January 2018

9/11 Anniversary: New York relives its darkest hour

American resilience tested as city gathers to remember nearly 3,000 souls who lost their lives on 9/11

President Barack Obama and
first lady Michelle Obama at
Arlington National Cemetery
US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at Arlington National Cemetery
Andy Neale kisses his wife Yvette after a moment of silence in Battery Park to remember those who perished

Philip Sherwell in New York

They refused to be driven out by the terrorists who struck the city on September 11 2001.

And yesterday, as a bell tolled at 8.46am to mark the minute that the first hijacked plane flew into the Twin Towers, they joined hands in a human chain of support and commemoration along the waterfront of lower Manhattan.

Thousands of local residents, for whom 9/11 was an attack on their home as well as on a symbol of American might, linked hands with visitors from across the country and around the world as the nation began an emotionally-exhausting weekend of ceremonies and services marking the 10th anniversary of the atrocities.

Rising in front of them as they reached out to friends, neighbours and strangers, was the new World Trade Center tower, soaring into the void left that day and destined to be America's tallest building.

Ten years ago today, Laura Morrison fled her home a few blocks from the WTC with her two-year-old daughter in a push-chair along the same footpath where they gathered yesterday, with the Statue of Liberty standing tall and proud in the harbour behind them. She was pregnant at the time with her second child. Now they returned as a family -- Mrs Morrison, her husband Scott, and their daughters Zoe, 12 and Jamie, nine. "We live here, we work here, we are raising our family here and we are not going to be driven away," she said.

Liz Sadowsky had watched the horror of that day play out from the windows of her flat which had an unobstructed view of the WTC. She saw the second plane swoop out of the cloudless blue sky fly into the towers and then, just as shockingly, the collapse of the burning skyscrapers.

She joined the human chain with her husband Howard and their sons Walter, seven, and Ezra, four, who were wearing bandanas of the Stars and Stripes flag. "The terrorists tried to take us down that day and they failed," she said. "It's important to send out that message this weekend as we also remember those who died in the attacks."

President George W Bush, the country's leader at the time of the attacks but who has maintained a low profile since leaving office, took centre stage in two ceremonies yesterday.

At the Pentagon, he led a brief and sombre silent tribute to the 184 people killed when a hijacked plane ploughed into the defence headquarters just outside Washington. Joined by his wife, Laura, he laid a wreath of white flowers by the memorial stone embedded in the wall where the plane struck.

Mr Bush later joined Bill Clinton, the former president, and Vice President Joe Biden at a ceremony dedicating the marble "wall of names" near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was there that an onboard rebellion by passengers and flight crew foiled plans by the hijackers of United 93 to fly into the US Capitol or the White House, forcing them down instead into a remote field.

In New Jersey, governor Chris Christie unveiled a memorial just across the Hudson river from Ground Zero to the 746 residents of his state who were killed in the attacks. And the focus switched back to New York last night for a memorial service at St Patrick's cathedral for the 343 firefighters who died in the towers that day.

Mrs Morrison had seen some of those men arrive on the ferry from Staten Island that morning as she waited to board it to escape. "I will always remember the look of determination on their faces," she said. "They were so focused on getting to the towers to get people out. I'll never know which ones made it out and which ones died there that day."

Today's anniversary will be marked by ceremonies at all three sites.


At Ground Zero, President Barack Obama and Mr Bush join a host of dignitaries and relatives of the dead for the opening of the 9/11 memorial. Waterfalls will cascade into giant reflecting pools in the footprints of the old towers and the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks are inscribed in bronze panels around the sides.

Mr Obama will then travel to ceremonies in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon before ending the day with an address to a memorial event at the Kennedy Centre in Washington.

Yesterday, he and his wife Michelle visited the Arlington national ceremony where the nation's war dead are buried. Mr Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to reflect on America's resilience and also trumpeted breakthroughs against al-Qaeda.

"The terrorists who attacked us that September morning are no match for the character of our people, the resilience of our nation or the endurance of our values," he said. "They wanted to deprive us of the unity that defines us as a people. But we will not succumb to division or suspicion."

He thanked American troops who have served in the post-September 11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and highlighted advances during his administration against al-Qaeda, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, the terror chief who ordered the attacks.

But even during a weekend of shared national commemoration and emotion, when Mr Obama will stand alongside Mr Bush, political divisions were exposed over national security and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited from his predecessor.

Mr Obama reaffirmed his commitment to winding down the conflicts he inherited. But City in the Republican response, Rudy Giuliani, New York's mayor at the time of the attacks, criticised the president's policies, without mentioning him by name.

America is safer, but not as safe as it should be, he said as he condemned plans to remove troops from Iraq and Afghanistan under a set schedule.

"American security requires a long-term military presence in the part of the world where people and organisations are plotting to kill us," he said.

"Perhaps the most dangerous impulse we've developed since September 11 is impatience demonstrated by the calls to put our armed forces on timetables."

There was also discord over the decision by Michael Bloomberg, the current New York mayor, not to invite any of the surviving firefighters, police or other first responders to this morning's ceremony at Ground Zero.

The mayor said that space constraints meant that the event could only accommodate relatives of the victims. But the presence of a raft of politicians and dignitaries has fuelled anger among those excluded from the event.

Away from the wrangles and disputes, however, many Americans were determined this weekend not just to honour the dead but also pay tribute to the spirit of survival, resilience and rebirth.

The images of the smoke billowing across the New York skyline, the towers collapsing, the faces twisted in shock and horror are unforgettable, forever etched into the collective consciousness -- not just of America, but of the world.

But so too is the memory of how individuals responded in the face of such terror -- from the first responders who poured into the towers even as others fled, to the passengers and flight crew on the doomed planes to the volunteers in New York who worked for weeks and months near Ground Zero.

At an earlier remembrance ceremony for the 23 city police officers who died, Mr Bloomberg looked to the future, saying the best way to honour the dead was to continue living with optimism.

"I don't believe that they would ever want us to be in perpetual mourning," he said. "They loved us, and they loved life, far too much for that. So I have no doubt that they'd want us to remember them -- and also want us to live our lives with the happiness and hope they wished for us when they were still among us."

Sunday Independent

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