New York has observed the end of the recovery effort at the site where the World Trade Center once stood with a moving ceremony. The observance ushers in the rebuilding phase at ground zero.
Five bells the traditional signal rung for a fallen New York firefighter marked the beginning of the ceremony at 10:29 in the morning in New York. That is the exact time when the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11. The bells tolled in sets of five.
The solemn ceremony concluded the massive recovery effort at ground zero, which began nearly nine months ago as thousands of firefighters, rescue workers and volunteers passed buckets of debris in the search for survivors in the giant heap of burning rubble.
Nearly two million tons of the demolished towers were removed.
During the ceremony, New Yorkers stood in silence and watched as an empty stretcher draped in an American flag was carried out of the giant pit to symbolize the remains of victims never recovered. Of the more than 2,800 people who were killed in the attacks in New York, only about 1,000 were identified, many through DNA testing of body parts.
The stretcher, carried past an honor guard, was placed in an ambulance. Then, a large truck slowly hauled away the last steel column that was recovered from the towers that since the 1970s soared more than 100 stories into the sky.
A special battalion made up of the city's emergency worker bands played the mournful notes of Taps.
The half-hour ceremony, which included no speeches, was attended by relatives of victims and politicians and aimed to give some kind of closure. But it was largely for the firefighters, police officers and recovery workers who put in more than three million hours of work to clean the site. They completed their task ahead of schedule and for $750 million, which was much less than the expected budget.
Later, the tune of America the Beautiful was played as a band of bagpipes marched out of ground zero and into the city streets.
In an unplanned, moving moment, the onlookers applauded the rescue workers, as they did last September in the days immediately following the attacks.