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Work Continues at Ground Zero as First Anniversary of Attacks Approaches

The cleanup ended last May at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center stood before the al-Qaida terrorist attack. The once mighty seven-building complex is marked by giant holes, empty and exposed. Although the future of the area, seen by many as hallowed ground, is undecided, hundreds of workers are restoring the destroyed core.

At first, it is difficult to tell the difference between the end of the cleanup and the beginning of the rebuilding phase at Ground Zero.

Dozens of construction and ironworkers with hard-hats and goggles are covered with dirt in a massive pit. They haul steel beams, operate cranes, and drive bulldozers across soft muddy terrain.

It could take months, or even years for New Yorkers to decide on a plan to memorialize the victims of the attack and revitalize the devastated area. In the meantime, there is plenty to do. Construction workers continue to repair less talked about damage on the 6.5 hectares that was the World Trade Center.

"There is so much going on here right now. As you can see in a small area, there are so many machines and men working here in such a small space in order to rebuild," says operating engineer Peter O'Connor. He is part of a team of hundreds of workers, who have started laying the foundation to rebuild a key power station in Number Seven World Trade Center, which collapsed after the nearby Twin Towers imploded.

Mr. O'Connor and his co-workers know Ground Zero all too well. After the attacks, they helped remove nearly two-million tons of debris. Together, they carried the remains of some of the victims recovered.

"I think there is a bond, an emotional bond knowing that we are here to rebuild a site where such an event, an emotional event took place one-year ago," emphasized Mr. O'Connor.

Every day nearly 30,000 people stare into the core of the World Trade Center, catching a glimpse of history and the final resting place for so many victims.

Below ground, construction crews handle heavy machinery and long copper-colored pipes. Nearby, one worker looks on, smoking a cigarette, leaning on the steering wheel of a bulldozer. After one-year of hard labor there, some workers have started to view Ground Zero simply as a construction site.

Construction worker Bobby Jackman removes his protective goggles and places them on top of a yellow hard hat for a short break. He is covered head-to-toe with mud from a day of work in the pit. "It is a little spooky now and again, but other than that, it is still, it is just a job," he says.

But for a manager of the Verizon telephone company, George Famulare, who has returned to Ground Zero nearly every workday for the past year, the emotional effect of the terrorist attack has barely worn off.

He says sometimes it is difficult to return to the site. More often he calls it comforting to be there and remember the disaster.

"I can not believe it is a year. It is a year. It seems like yesterday for me," he says. "I mean, it is a year and there is still so much more. We still have another 18 months of work to do, so I do not know."

Mr. Famulare says the task that lies ahead is enormous. He is part of a team that is still working to permanently restore telephone service to Lower Manhattan, which was wiped out from the impact of the collapse.

Mr. Famulare notes the restoration phase is still in its infancy. But operating engineer Bill Noesges is not put off by the work that lies ahead. He calls it the most important job of his life.

He arrives at Ground Zero by motorcycle, looking like a stereotypical "tough guy." He wears a black bandana on his head and a cutoff shirt that reveals giant muscular arms.

When asked about the September 11 attacks, Mr. Noesges' eyes swell with tears. "The one-year anniversary, my heart goes out to all the people that lost their loved ones," he says. "I am emotional right now. It is very sad and [I hope] that all the locals pull together and do what everybody wants to be done down here."

Mr. Noesges says he is sad every day at Ground Zero. But he says he is determined to restore the area with one goal in mind; to prepare the grounds for a memorial that would give relatives of victims closure and a place to go to remember their loved ones.

VOA photos - E. Monnac

Part of VOA's series on the September 11 terror attacks.