Reporter's Notebook: Ground Zero is the focus of world attention - again
As the US marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, visitors from across the world flock to New York's Ground Zero, turning the fraught spot into a hive of activity.
A woman emerges from the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site right by Ground Zero, gazes at the spire of St. Paul's Chapel across the street before shutting her eyes, tears trickling down her face. Her husband, standing beside her on the sidewalk, sympathetically rubs her back.
“By God, I'm glad I came here,” says a young man as he flops on the steps outside the building. “That was incredible.”
No matter how many 9/11 images you've seen and how many testimonies you've heard over the past ten years, it's difficult to come out of the preview site and not be moved.
The much-awaited 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero commemorating the nearly 3,000 people killed exactly a decade ago is scheduled to open the day after the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Within the premises, the 9/11 Memorial Museum however will only open in 2012.
Until then, visitors to the preview site can see some of the exhibit pieces from the 9/11 Memorial Museum's permanent collection, which include a replica of the Lady of Liberty statue at a Times Square fire station that was covered with pennants and tributes in the aftermath of the attacks.
Ten years after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, destroying the city's iconic structure, New York is once again the focus of the world.
Braving security clampdowns and terror alerts, people from across the country and the globe are flocking to the area around Ground Zero to pay their respects to the dead and to contemplate a monumental, tragic moment in America's history.
A sea of white ribbons
One of the stops in the Ground Zero circuit is St. Paul's Chapel, an 18th century stone chapel that provided succor to so many reeling, traumatised New Yorkers on September 11, 2001.
Nuns from Latin America, Japanese grandparents, Brazilian dancers, British teenagers, Amish women in their traditional full skirts and bonnets – they all seem to have gathered here.
Outside the chapel, a sea of white ribbons flutter in the breeze. Emblazoned with the words “Remember to love,” each ribbon bears a signature of a visitor, along with the date, and often a short message of peace or a prayer.
Inside the chapel, musicians play a requiem as visitors light candles, read the commemorative posters or simply sit in the pews in quiet reflection.
The doubters at the corner
The mood is very different further down Vesey Street, at the corner of Greenwich, where the doubters have colonised the block.
A disparate mix of members of We Are Change - a citizens rights group that rejects what they call “the official cover-up explanation” of the 9/11 attacks “disseminated by the state and corporate media” - are out in full force.
Dwarfed by the still-rising new 1 World Trade Center, standing next to a placard reading “9/11 was an inside job/ Bush liar, murderer, terrorist,” two men share their views on the world order.
“This country is controlled by the British, it's the British who colonised us and they still control us.”
'Yeah, the British, I like that, I like that man.'
“Everybody killed by the FBI, like Kennedy...”
'Kennedys, make that plural, brother.'
“Yeah, Bobby Kennedy, he was a nice guy. He got killed. Patrice Lumumba...you know Patrice Lumumba?”
“He the African guy that got killed from a plane.”
The facts are fuzzy, but the intentions are sincere.
Across the street, NYPD officers eye this motley mix watchfully but benevolently.
Security 'lockdown' - but who's listening?
The newspaper headlines are screaming about the security “lockdown” due to the recent terror threats.
An army of security officials, including federal and local law enforcement personnel, trained snipers, bomb technicians and Secret Service staff, have swarmed the city.
The heavy law enforcement presence, planned months ahead of the tenth anniversary, has turned more intense following this week's reports of a “credible” and “specific” al Qaeda threat.
Police helicopters hover and whir overhead. Orange roadsigns in parts of the city read: “Avoid Downtown”.
But that message is apparently lost on the crowd at Saint Paul's Chapel. Sitting on the chapel's parapet, watching jumpy policemen stop and search cars down Broadway, Bob from Las Vegas, who declined to provide his last name, says he finds the heavy police presence reassuring. “It means they're doing their job,” says Bob. “They're keeping the country safe.”