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A City Divided Five Years After 9/11


Families and friends of 9/11 victims in New York gathered at the base of the World Trade Center site Monday to honor their loved ones. Thousands more gathered at the fence that lines Ground Zero. VOA's Kane Farabaugh spent the day talking with people there and reports on the surprising lack of unity in the city five years later.

It was almost as if it could have been that same September day five years ago. There were few clouds in the sky -- a weather condition airline pilots call "severe clear."

The clear sky that is now easier to see near the hole in New York City's heart was perhaps the only similarity five years after September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks changed the world and brought many New Yorkers together.

It was a unity that was hard to find at Ground Zero Monday.

Thousands came near the fence at Ground Zero to remember.

They came to honor.

And they came to protest.

The war in Iraq and conspiracy theories about government complicity in the collapse of the towers were two of the central issues addressed by the protesters.

But some looked on in silent contemplation near two steel beams in the shape of a cross. It has become an iconic symbol at the site. Not far from its perch stood the man who found it in the rubble in the days after 9/11.

Frank Silecchia is a concrete worker who spent 10 months at Ground Zero. The cross isn't the only thing he found in the recovery effort. "To me, I'm a veteran of 9/11. I served 10 months in this hellhole and I have 47 bodies in recovery. It means a lot for me to be here to meet and greet the people I worked with and I've grown to love."

Protesters marched as the names of the victims filtered out to the crowd from loudspeakers.

Frank Silecchia was unhappy with the scene. He expressed his frustration. "They're using this moment that should be of solitude and silence and recognition and reflection, but instead they want to bring turmoil and chaos and disruption, which I think is totally inappropriate."

Tania Garcia made the trek from Florida to attend the memorial ceremony inside the site. Her sister Marilyn worked on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center and died on 9/11.

Garcia has been back each year for the memorial and doesn't mind the protesters, or the lack of progress at the site. "My concerns are not about what goes on here,” she says. “It's not about rebuilding to me because it's not some place I would want to visit. But that's just me. I know that the city needs to rebuild. I know that the city needs to keep up its status. I understand that people need to move on. But for me, I will never move on when it comes to this. This is somewhere where I will be for the rest of my life. This is a pain I will carry with me the rest of my life. This is something that no one or anything that they wrote here will replace what has happened to us."

It is easy to see what was lost here in New York. The hole in the ground and the empty sky above are continuous reminders of the physical cost of that day five years ago.

But the personal loss is clearer to see on days when so many who survived gather to remember those who did not. They honor the memory of family members and friends, who remind the rest of the world of the greatest cost of terrorism.