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Ceremony to Mark End of World Trade Center Recovery Operation

The last standing steel column from the World Trade Center, destroyed in the September 11 attacks, has been cut down. The beam will be removed from the site during a ceremony marking the end of the massive recovery effort on Thursday. Now, a giant pit, fenced in, filled with plowed dirt, cranes and lined with harsh, bright floodlights, stands where the twin towers once soared 110 stories into the sky.

In less than nine months, three months ahead of schedule, and under budget, work crews have completed the daunting task of clearing the enormous pile of rubble.

Recovery worker Tom Fenech says that it is important never to forget the disaster and the more than 2,800 victims who perished. But he says he is ready to leave behind ground zero and the cleanup which began on September 11 with a search for survivors and later remains.

"I am glad to be out of here," said Mr. French. "I think everybody is glad to be out of here. I think we are all tired. I think it is time for us to pack it up and go home and just start our lives all over again. That is what we need to do."

Engineers and ironworkers used a blowtorch to cut down the last steel column from the twin towers, and put it on a truck. Wrapped in an American flag, the column is covered with messages identifying the workers and honoring the dead. It will be removed from the site Thursday, signifying the end of the cleanup.

During Thursday's ceremony, an empty stretcher, also draped in an American flag, will be carried past an honor guard to represent the remains never found. The ceremony will begin at the exact time when the second tower collapsed.

Discussions on how to rebuild the 6.5 hectare plot have already begun, but a final plan, including a memorial, is expected to take several months. Meanwhile, a lookout platform remains open, and tourists and New Yorkers line up to see the now empty space.