The lone standing steel column from the World Trade Center, destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks, has been cut down. The column will be removed Thursday from the site during a ceremony marking the end of the massive recovery effort.
Now, a giant pit - fenced in, filled with plowed dirt, cranes and lined with harsh, bright floodlights - stands where the Twin Towers once protruded more than 100 levels into the sky.
In less than nine months, three months ahead of schedule and under budget, work crews have completed the daunting task of clearing the enormous pile of rubble.
Recovery worker Tom Fenech said that it is important never to forget the disaster, and the more than 2,800 people who perished. But he says he is ready to leave behind ground zero and the around-the-clock cleanup, which began on September 11 with a search for survivors and later remains. Mr. Fenech said, "I am glad to be out of here. I think everybody is glad to be out of here. I think we are all tired. I think it is time for us to pack it up and go home and just start our lives all over again. That is what we need to do."
Engineers and ironworkers used a blowtorch to cut down the last steel column from the Twin Towers, and hauled it on a truck. Wrapped in an American flag, the column is covered with messages identifying the workers and honoring the dead. It will be removed from the site signifying the end of the cleanup.
The ceremony will begin at the exact time when the second Tower collapsed and will start with a traditional signal for a fallen firefighter.
An empty stretcher, also draped in an American flag, will be carried past an honor guard to represent the remains never found. Only about one-third of the victims have been identified, many through DNA testing of body parts.
Recovery worker Bill Harris says marking the completion of the cleanup is especially difficult, because it means that the remains of many of the victims will never be found. "It's hard to let go of this," he said, "because the job is not done. Not everybody has been found, so the excavation is done, the material is gone the wreckage is gone but there are families that have not gotten closure."
Discussions on how to rebuild the 6.5 hectare plot have already begun. A final plan, which will include a memorial, is expected to take several months. In the mean time, a lookout platform remains open and tourists and New Yorkers line up to see the now empty space at ground zero.