As hundreds of recovery workers looked on, the last steel beam left standing from the twin towers was cut down Tuesday night in the first of several events to mark an end to the recovery phase at the World Trade Center site.
The beam, a 30-foot, 58-ton girder from the southeast corner of the south tower, is the last piece of some 1.8 million tons of wreckage to be removed since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Following an official closing ceremony on Thursday, recovery efforts will shift full-time to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, where workers will continue to sift through the wreckage.
Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta joined the hundreds of construction workers, police officers, firefighters and military personnel who walked in a procession into the deep pit that is all that is left of the World Trade Center. A bugler played taps and onlookers chanted “U.S.A.” as the beam was brought down.
“It’s a signal of the end,” said recovery worker John Donadio, “but it also reminds us of the loss of all the people.”
The occasion was bittersweet for many of the workers, many of whom felt it hard to move on, but knew they must.
“It's hard to let go of this,” recovery worker Bill Harris said, “because the job is not done. Not everybody has been found. The excavation is done, the material is gone, the wreckage is gone, but there are families that haven't gotten closure.”
It took workers more than four hours to cut down the column, which, for months, stood in the middle of the site with an American flag mounted on top, after it was uncovered, still standing, as the huge pile of rubble dissipated. Throughout the day Tuesday, dozens of recovery workers snapped photos at the beam, emblazoned with the names of the FDNY, the FDNY and the Port Authority Police Department, to remember the piece of steel, which came to symbolize strength amidst the destruction.
“Bittersweet says it all,” said firefighter Tom Fenech. “For some it's a chance of no hope; it's gone. And other people, in a way, they're happy that it's over. But in our minds it will never forgotten.”
The dislodged beam, now shrouded in a black cloth, will be carried out during an official ceremony Thursday, starting with the ringing of the Fire Department’s ceremonial bell at 10:29 a.m., the time the second tower collapsed on September 11.
The ceremony will feature an empty stretcher draped with an American flag to represent the victims who weren’t recovered. Despite painstaking searches through every bit of rubble, the remains of only 1,081 people have been identified among the nearly 2,823 believed to have died in the attack.
Then the steal beam will be carried out of the site on a flatbed truck, completing the effort far under budget and finished months earlier than originally anticipated.
The end of the recovery work also means the close of the Salvation Army tent on Thursday. The tent, known as the Taj Mahal because of its shape, has provided food, lockers, showers and cots for the workers at the site.
Another center of assistance will be the site of a prayer service on Wednesday for recovery workers and volunteers. St. Paul’s Chapel has been staffed by volunteers 24 hours a day to provide recovery workers with food, counseling and a place to pray and rest.
Following the midday service Wednesday and the official end of the recovery work, the chapel will close for its first extensive cleaning since September 11.
Family members of the victims are now planning their own ceremony for Sunday morning. They were granted the permit for the separate ceremony Tuesday, after weeks of criticizing the mayor’s decision to hold the official ceremony on a weekday, when many relatives could not attend.
Details of that service are still being worked out, but it is scheduled to be on Liberty Street, between West and Church streets.
NY1 will cover Thursday’s closing ceremony live, starting at 10 a.m. The service will be replayed during a special edition of “New York Tonight” at 8 p.m., live from Downtown.
Victims' Families Granted Permit To Hold Weekend Ceremony At WTC Site