Thousands Gather in New York for Sept. 11

Thousands of people are gathering at Ground Zero in New York to observe the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. President Bush was among those in the city to remember those lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Rene Montagne.

President Bush today visits all three sites where Americans died five years ago. Hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon, a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the World Trade Center.

In New York, thousands of people are gathering at Ground Zero to observe the fifth anniversary of the attacks. People who lost husbands, wives or partners are reading the names of more than 2,700 victims.

NPR's Margot Adler joins us now from our studios in New York. And Margot, it's still early there, it's quiet, when it begins what will today's ceremony involve?

MARGOT ADLER: Well the ceremony, Rene, has become very traditional. There will be formal moments of silence at 8:46, 9:03, 9:59, 10:29 - those, of course, the moments when the two planes hit and the two towers fell. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor George Pataki, and the governor of New Jersey will also join in the readings of the names. And after that first moment of silence, the families will be able to go down the lowest level, to the lowest level to the site and lay flowers.

MONTAGNE: Tell us about those - the exact number, as we know it is 2,749 names.

ADLER: Well that is what is the people in the towers, the people on the two airlines, the number does not include the 10 hijackers.

Over the years, these numbers have not fluctuated that much. There have been a few removed because of duplication or fraud. The number that has really changed is the number of victims who have been positively accounted for and that is that remains have been found.

As of last week, that number was 1,598 accounted for and that means 1,151 or 42 percent still not accounted for. But this number is still changing because in the past year, 760 remains, sometimes very small, were found in the Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street.

MONTAGNE: And looking ahead, architects have just unveiled designs for three new office towers at the World Trade Center, what do they look like, as of now?

ADLER: Well they're all very different, all are smaller than the Freedom Tower. Each has a different architect; two, English and one, Japanese. One building, Norman Foster's Tower Two, will be topped by four shining diamonds that will light up lower Manhattan. It's supposedly going to be taller than the Empire State Building, not counting the Empire State Buildings antennae and the symbolism of the diamonds are meant to incline toward the September 11th memorial as a sign of respect to the victims. Construction is planned to begin in 2007, 2008, is scheduled to be finished by 2012 but given the past, who knows whether even these designs will hold.

MONTAGNE: And a quick review of what else is going to be happening today besides this ceremony you just spoke of?

ADLER: President Bush was at Ground Zero yesterday laying wreaths with Laura Bush - attended a religious service at St. Paul's Chapel nearby. This morning, he goes to another event at a firehouse in lower Manhattan. He then flies to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, then the Pentagon and tonight he gives a speech from the Oval Office.

MONTAGNE: Now, as you said, this ceremony that's happening today has become, in a sense, a tradition. There have been, obviously several since 9/11, what seems different this year?

ADLER: Well you know, I've been thinking about that and the thing that really seems different, the issue that is resonating this year and that has found it's way into the front page of The New York Times and to editorials in the New York Times and other papers, is what I can only say is finally a real focus on the first responders, who heroically went down to Ground Zero right after the attacks and worked and many gave their health. This is an issue that people pussyfooted around for years. But recent reports from Mt. Sinai Medical Center and other studies leave little doubt that the thousands who worked at Ground Zero, especially during the first few days, many were seriously affected, may gave their health, and finally, there are many calls to give these heroic individuals their due.

MONTAGNE: Margot, thanks very much.

ADLER: Always good to talk to you, Rene.

MONTAGNE: And we'll be updating on this story later with Margot in New York. You can meet some of the people whose lives changed on 9/11 in an audio slideshow at npr.org.

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