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Steel Rises, New Yorkers Rebuild Lives on 9/11 Anniversary

Visitors to New York will find construction underway on a memorial and museum at the former site of the World Trade Center, destroyed seven years ago in the September 11 terror attacks. Nearly 3,000 people died that day, most of them in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Seven years later, the work of rebuilding is also ongoing in the lives of survivors, as they remake their own lives while remembering those who were lost.

Last week, construction workers erected the first steel column for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. It was installed where the World Trade Center's north tower once stood. Joe Daniels, president of the museum-memorial, says waterfalls will cascade into two reflecting pools built in the footprints of the twin towers.

“It's all about reflecting absence,” Daniels said in an interview at his office overlooking the site. “The names of the victims will be arrayed along the sides of these pools, and people will go there and recognize this is the spot where the twin towers stood, and it's not here anymore; and of course most importantly, the almost 3,000 people who were killed that day are no longer with us either."

Freedom Tower

Another centerpiece of the reclaimed "ground zero" area will be the Freedom Tower, as it’s called. That is the massive skyscraper whose design and construction has been dogged by controversy. Developers call it a hopeful symbol of recovery, while some architecture critics say the fortified base is more evocative of fear.

Memorial & Museum

The September 11 Memorial & Museum will cover half of the former World Trade Center site. Daniels says the project should be complete by the tenth anniversary of the attacks in 2011.

In the meantime, a temporary museum established by the September 11th Families Association draws thousands of visitors. The WTC Tribute Center is just opposite Ground Zero, a place that 84-year-old Dina LaFond thought she would never visit. “It took me four years to go back there,” she said last week. “I never wanted to go there for the rest of my life."

Dina LaFond is a volunteer at the WTC Tribute Center, where she helps lead tours around the site. To each group, she tells the story of her own daughter, Jeanette LaFond-Menichino, an insurance company vice-president.

She was also a serious part-time artist who was inspired by the view from her office high in the north tower. She died in the attacks. Her mother’s story always begins, “She was 49 years old. She worked on the 94th floor of the north tower, right where the first plane hit.”

Jeanette took photographs of the view from her office, her mother says, and used them in her own landscape paintings.

“The clouds would come right up to her window, and sometimes there were rain clouds, and you could actually see the rainfall. And if you looked above the clouds, it was completely clear. And when the airplanes and helicopters passed by, you could actually see in the compartments,” her mother tells the tour groups.

Dina LaFond's husband, Jeanette’s father, died nine months after the attacks. Now LaFond lives alone in her Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by her daughter's paintings. But she is rarely at home. She works two days a week in a bank office in Manhattan, and attends Catholic Mass every Sunday. A lifelong singer and dancer, she also joined a tap-dancing troupe that performs at retirement centers. LaFond’s goal now is to dance one day on the stage of Radio City Music Hall. She says her activities keep her happy and hopeful, and not bitter.

“You know, what am I going to do, keep crying, and like that? You just take each day as it comes. Thank God that I found these places where I could go to sing and dance. Of course, yes, you do have a kind of hatred for these people here who destroy innocent people. You just have to brush that out of your mind and hope to God it never happens again, and you hope they come to their senses and realize how wrong they were."

Recently, LaFond and her surviving daughter, Anita, recorded their memories of Jeannette as part of a project called StoryCorps. Their stories will be included in an audio archive at the September 11 Memorial and Museum when it opens in three years. Dina LaFond says that she will continue telling her daughter’s story to visitors. “It gives you a sense that maybe these other people might have lost someone and don't know how to deal with it, and if I tell them that I miss my daughter continuously, it's like having another skin on me, that she is always with me, that I never forget her, and she's an inspiration for me to carry on. And if I didn't do that, I'd really be lost.”

“Thank you for listening,” she told a group at the end of a recent tour. The tourists, who come from Britain, Australia, Japan and other countries, applauded her. Then they lined up to shake her hand and kiss her cheek.