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Families of 9/11 Victims Sue to Have Remains Removed from Landfill - 2004-10-15


After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, debris from the destroyed World Trade Center towers was shipped to a garbage dump on the city's Staten Island where it was sifted for bodily remains, which were removed for proper burial. Some victims' families have filed legal action against New York City, because they say unidentifiable ash and dust has been left in the landfill and treated as trash.

A group called World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial says New York City has failed to live up to its promise to treat all those who died in the attacks with dignity.

The group says much of the ash and dust that remained after small bits of bone were sifted and removed has been left in the 20 hectare landfill and buried along with tons of garbage. Family members say that ash contains the remains of the some 1,200 unidentified victims.

Kurt Horning is the co-founder of the group. He says he is pursuing legal action against the city because officials led families to believe the remains would be kept apart and placed in a separate memorial site.

"That's what we find so insulting and annoying and aggravating and anguishing," he said. "Not only were our loved ones killed by hatred from foreigners who couldn't understand our way of life. But then whatever was left of them is now being treated as garbage and nobody cares."

Mr. Horning's 26-year-old son, Matthew, worked on the 95th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and was among the office workers who died when the planes struck. His remains were never found.

Of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed that day, only about 250 full bodies were recovered. Some victims were identified by body parts or bone fragments.

But for many victims' families, their loved ones' cemetery is the city garbage dump. The dump closed in March 2001, then reopened so that officials could examine over the World Trade Center wreckage there. Any debris that remained after being sorted for recognizable fragments, personal effects and steel, was bulldozed over the top layer of the dump. The landfill closed again for good in June of 2002.

Mr. Horning's group wants federal funds to pay for the removal of that debris, and for the creation of a national cemetery to honor the some 1200 unidentified victims of the terror attack. He estimates the operation could cost at least $10 million.

New York city officials have not commented on the legal action, which does not ask for specific damages but paves the way for future lawsuits if the families' demands are not met.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has opposed the idea of removing the World Trade Center remains from the landfill because he says it would cost too much.

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