It was on this day in 2002 that city workers held a wordless ceremony marking the end of the recovery and cleanup at Ground Zero in New York City.
The cleanup crew had consisted of more than 7000 firefighters, policemen, construction workers, and volunteers. The site covered 17 acres and rose 150 feet above the street. Some of the steel columns pulled from the piles glowed red. The workers eventually removed 1 1/2 million tons of debris in more than 100,000 truckloads.
The ceremony on this day in 2002 took place at 10:29 a.m., the precise time at which the second of the twin towers collapsed. A New York City firefighter struck a bell 20 times, the traditional ceremony for a fallen firefighter. The New York City Fire Department had lost 343 firefighters on September 11th.
A group of firefighters and police officers played bagpipes and drums as a flatbed truck carried away the last steel beam to be removed from the site. Many of the workers had written their names on the beam. Most of the 200,000 tons of steel recovered from the site were cut down into three-foot sections and sold primarily to Asian scrap metal companies, to be recycled for use in cars and appliances and all manner of ordinary objects and machines.
Visitors to the former World Trade Center site last year witnessed the idle construction equipment and saw only the faintest of markings where the twin towers once stood. Ground zero was a sad place made even sadder by a lack of progress.
Now, as thousands of today's tourists can attest, there are construction workers and cranes and the first signs of new steel beams going in the ground, welcome signs that restoration is under way. What got this work started was an agreement about a year ago between Larry Silverstein, who held the lease on the twin towers, and the governors of New York and New Jersey and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But there was always one big missing piece — the insurance money owed by those companies who carried policies on the twin towers.
This week, most of those insurers finally agreed to what may be the largest insurance payout in history — $4.55 billion. The agreement means that Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the two main developers of the site, can now proceed to get additional financing to build the entire $9 billion complex.
Although numerous politicians were lining up to grab credit for ending this particularly acrimonious legal dispute, it is really Eric Dinallo, New York's new insurance superintendent, who deserves the applause. Mr. Dinallo did what former Gov. George Pataki and his own insurance appointee should have done long ago. He finally called all the warring parties into one room and prodded them to settle their differences.
The insurance agreement does not completely clear the way for the complicated reconstruction work that needs to be done at ground zero. Plans for building and leasing the Freedom Tower, the tallest skyscraper on the site, are still shaky. The old Deutsche Bank building, which was set to be demolished three years ago to make way for one of the towers, is still there, its deconstruction proving more costly and difficult by the day.
The unraveling of the insurance mess, however, has provided new hope. Instead of a grim silence around ground zero, the noise of rebuilding sounds the revival of Lower Manhattan.
If there is progress in the reconstruction, news about how 9/11 affected people's health only gets worse. For the first time, New York's chief medical examiner, Dr. Charles Hirsch, has linked the death of a lawyer who worked near the trade center to the cloud of dust that enveloped her that day.
Felicia Dunn-Jones, who ran from the area as the towers disintegrated, developed sarcoidosis, a rare lung disease, and died five months later. The medical examiner's decision could expand the number of people with claims that they were injured by the destruction of the towers. The seriousness of the health problems, and the growing number of people who appear to have been affected, make it clear that the price tag will be in the billions of dollars. New Yorkers alone cannot, and should not, have to pay for the care that is needed. Congress will have to do that. Sept. 11 was an attack on America, and America should care for its victims.