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Hands that rebuilt America

IN THE footprints where the Twin Towers once stood, the man responsible for the rebuild takes in the enormity of the task at hand.

"We are doing something unique for history and all of us know that," says Bill Baroni.

"The pressure to make sure we finished this on time was extraordinary. The entire world is watching to see if we do our job and open this memorial on time."

Mr Baroni, who holds dual Irish and US citizenship, is the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which is responsible for rebuilding the site.

The taps were not turned on in the giant reflecting pools at the new 9/11 Memorial Plaza in Lower Manhattan when the Irish Independent was given exclusive access to the site this week.


But when water finally cascades down their giant granite walls next week it will signal a new beginning at the site known as Ground Zero.

Families of 9/11 victims will be the first to see the spectacular design completed, on next Sunday's 10th anniversary of the attacks.

For the first time, there will be a permanent shrine at the place where their loved ones' lives were lost.

Mr Baroni is keenly aware of how important it was to get the memorial finished in time for the anniversary.

"What we hope is that the families who lost so much -- husbands, wives, kids -- walk out in the plaza next week and will say that we did our job with dignity, humility and honouring the people we lost," he said.

The plaza will open to the public a day after the anniversary, and is expected to host 1,500 people per hour.

The memorial is the first part of the old World Trade Centre site to reopen, but the rest of the 16 acres remains a massive building site.

Directly underneath will be the 9/11 Museum, which is due to open on Sept 11, 2012.

It goes more than 80 feet underground, and will hold many precious remnants including original steel tridents from old towers, damaged fire trucks and other mementos from the buildings.

Across the complex, One World Trade Centre, formerly known as Freedom Tower, has been rising at a remarkable rate of one storey per week in recent months.

At more than 80 floors, it's already the tallest building in Manhattan, and will stretch to 1,776 feet by the time it's complete -- taller than the original Twin Towers. Conscious that it may be a target for future attacks, Mr Baroni says it's constructed to be the "strongest office building ever built".

Publishing giant Conde Nast will occupy a large section of the tower, also known as 1 WTC, when complete.

The federal government and a Chinese bank have also been confirmed as future tenants.

Also under construction is a new transportation hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava, who was responsible for the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin. But the opening of the plaza represents a significant milestone -- the first glimpse behind the high fence that has blocked the view of the 'giant hole in the ground' while controversy and wrangling delayed the project for years.

And now 10 years on, New York is finally ready to reclaim a piece of hallowed ground from history.

Irish Independent