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Rubble turned into memorials

When the twin towers collapsed in New York they created hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubble and debris, some of it toxic and some of it concealing physical traces of the thousands of human victims.

What to do with it all became one of the thorniest issues in dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.

Most of the debris ended up being taken by barge and truck to a vast landfill site called Fresh Kills, on Staten Island. The unfortunate name, a relic of the first European settlement, derives from an old Dutch word for a water channel.

A day after the attacks, the first trucks carrying debris from lower Manhattan arrived at Fresh Kills. Eventually, a staggering 1.8-million tonnes of cement, metal, dust and earth was brought there. The debris included the remains of 1 358 vehicles, including 102 fire-department vehicles and 61 belonging to the police. There were bits of lampposts and shop signs, fragments from the hijacked planes and equipment from shattered offices.

There were also human remains. From the day the first truck arrived, Fresh Kills was declared an official crime scene. For 10 months, the debris was sifted carefully and, after detectives and forensic experts had expended 1.7-million man hours, 4 257 human body parts were recovered, helping to identify more than 300 individuals.

One academic study found widespread psychological trauma and physical ailment among those working on the operation.

There were accusations that some of the debris had not been sifted. Some workers accused local government officials of using it for things such as road repairs.

But not all the debris ended up at Fresh Kills. City officials contracted scrap-metal merchants to harvest much of the 78 000 tonnes of recyclable steel in each tower. Recycled, it could have ended up in anything from cars to kitchen utensils to other buildings anywhere in the world.

About 7.5 tonnes went into the construction of the warship USS New York, which was named at a ceremony in Louisiana, watched by thousands, including relatives of some of the victims. The amphibious assault ship has World Trade Centre steel deliberately built into its bow.

At the ceremony, Lee Ielpi, the president of the September 11th Families Association, said of the ship: “We’re sending a message that we’re standing strong. This ship, as it cuts through the water, is going to send a ripple. That ripple will say: ‘We cherish our freedom.'”

Finally, more than 200 memorials all over America incorporate fragments of the buildings’ metal beams, struts and girders.

They have even been used to commemorate other tragedies. When people in Arizona wanted to remember the death of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green in the Gabrielle Giffords mass shooting, they constructed a statue of an angel using a fragment of a World Trade Centre I-beam. —

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