Families stream into New York ceremony

Families carrying photos of lost loved ones streamed into a plaza near “ground zero” in New York today to observe the eighth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack, wiping tears and raindrops from their faces under dreary skies.

Thousands were expected at now-familiar ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon and at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In lower Manhattan, families used rain jackets and ponchos to fend off the rain and strong wind as bells tolled at nearby Trinity Church.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of weather there is. I would be here either way. It’s a way to come together and find a common place,” said Elaine Dejesus of Clifton, New Jersey. She carried a framed photo of Nereida Dejesus, who was her sister and best friend.

Ms Dejesus, wiping tears off her cheeks, said the anniversaries don’t get any easier.

“For me, it’s just the same as it was the first day,” she said. “There are days I just sit there and cry. But I also remember the fun times and what she would want us to do.”

Drawing on the spirit that spurred volunteers to rush to the burning towers on September 11, 2001, Americans looked for ways to help each other on a day better known for mourning the thousands of people killed in the nation’s worst terrorist attack.

Teresa Mathai, whose husband, Joseph Mathai, died at the World Trade Centre, planned to grieve at a morning wreath-laying ceremony in Boston and hear his name read out loud. Then she planned to install drywall at a home in south Boston with Habitat for Humanity, one of thousands of volunteer efforts planned since September 11 was declared a national day of service.

“Everyone has a different way of mourning,” she said. “Some people keep it absolutely sacred. For me, this is something that gives us solace.”

The combination of mourning and national giving was troubling to some who feared the volunteerism would overshadow a sombre day to remember the four hijacked jetliners that crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people, most in New York.

“When I first heard about it, I was concerned,” said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon. “I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we’ll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller.”

Four moments of silence were planned in New York – for when planes crashed into each tower and for when each tower collapsed.

Vice President Joseph Biden was to attend the ceremony.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who will also be at the memorial service in New York, said today that the anniversary is a “day of sorrow and tragedy, but also a day of heroism and unity,” and that remembrance and volunteerism are fitting memorials.

“By serving our communities and our country today and throughout the year, we commemorate our past while also preparing for our future,” Napolitano said.

A wreath was to be laid at a memorial to the Pentagon, where 184 people died when a jet slammed into the building. US President Barack Obama and Department of Defence Secretary Robert Gates were to meet with victims’ family members.

The president would “speak about what the day means and the sacrifices of thousands, not just at the Pentagon, but in Pennsylvania and certainly and most obviously in New York,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday.

The president pledged to “apprehend all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes, seek justice for those who were killed and defend against all threats to our national security.”

In Pennsylvania, the names of the 40 passengers and crew of United 93 were to be read at the time the plane crashed.

Jose Melendez-Perez, a customs agent credited with refusing US entry to a man officials believe was supposed to be the fifth hijacker aboard the flight, was going to the site for the first time. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was giving the keynote speech.

The attacks killed 40 people in Pennsylvania, 184 at the Pentagon and 2,752 in New York.

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