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Ground Zero ten years on

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Ghosts of ground zero by Tom Peirce

It's the Sunday of Labor weekend, as I pass St Paul's Cathedral in Manhattan’s Financial District and walk briskly in the sticky afternoon air towards Ground Zero. A decade has passed since the world stood still and watched the World Trade Towers crumble, claiming thousands of lives and irrevocably changing modern day history.

The progress is striking on my most recent visit to Ground Zero. One World Trade Center (One WTC), formerly known as the Freedom Tower, is now the tallest structure in lower Manhattan. Work continues on the skyscraper which dominates the skyline that was previously occupied by the World Trade Center. Already two thirds complete, the tower's V-shaped bracing is pronounced by the September sun which glistens against the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Next to the entrance of the Path Train transport hub, tourists pause; their heads tilted gazing at the skyscraper, while locals pass purposely as they make their way into the busy Port Authority transit hub.

The view from the sidewalk of the 16-acre site is obscured by blue canopies with slogans updating progress: "One World Trade Center is now more than halfway to the top of the 104th building" one reads, the next reports: "3,000 daily workers now at this site".

A father holds his young daughter in his arms as he peeks through a gap in the wire mess fence, eager to catch a snap shot of the development. The giant arms of several cranes stretch across the site and occasionally threw gaps in the canopies you catch a glimpse of the hard-hard workers, immersed in their job. The streets surrounding the site are a flurry of activity, as vendors sell refreshments and 9/11 pamphlets are passed out.

Further up Vessey Street, the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site is thronged with people. Inside, the small space is occupied by young and old who study the time line of events of Setember 11, displayed on the wall.

A young couple from Newcastle stand outside. Their first trip to New York, visiting Ground Zero was something they always wanted to see.

"The work is excellent," said Kate Wheatley, as she gestured towards the building site across the street.

Referring to One WTC, she admits she didn’t realize it was going to be such a large scale project.

"I wasn't aware they were building anything to be honest, I just thought it was just going to be the memorial." she said.

When I question why they decided to visit the site, the Newcastle resident tells me that her father has always been a fire fighter, as she chokes up and finds comfort in the arms of her boyfriend. Even to a tourist, all those who perished remains a raw memory.

Perched on a wall on Church Street, a middle-aged couple from Arizona are eating nuts. Their first trip to the Big Apple, they are sitting directly opposite Ground Zero.

"It's great to be here and to be able to think about all those people who died, it's good to take that in,” Sherry said.

"It's pretty overwhelming and very touching.

"We knew we wouldn't be able to see much because of the construction but the building is pretty dynamic and starting to take shape, so you can really tell what it is going to look like I think," she added.

Inside St Paul's Chapel, Kevin Mari from Brooklyn is busy in the gift shop taking questions from customers.

Built in 1766, the chapel is one of Manhattan's oldest public buildings in continuous use. Directly across the street from Ground Zero, it remarkably withstood the destruction of 9/11. In the weeks following the terrorist attacks, rescue workers received around the clock care in the religious center.

A decade later, the memory lives on in the messages of support from the aftermath which color the walls. Above an exit a large hang painted sign reads "To all New York City and all the rescuers keep your spirits up, Oklahoma loves you".

In the gift shop in the corner, Mari says he has noticed an increase in numbers in the lead up to the 10th anniversary commemorations.

"Some people are sad, some are just walking around taking it in, some are returning as they haven't been down here for a while," he said.

Outside in the chapel grounds, Tom Peirce sits on a bench with his back to the construction site. From Washington DC, he made the trip up to New York City this weekend to mark the tenth anniversary.

"I like to draw," he says before showing me his sketch of One WTC.

"I was in DC on 9/11 and I saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon," he recalls.

"Since I cannot be here on September 11, this weekend was the closest that I could come for the commemorations.

"Given New York and the personalities, everyone would say it would be nicer if progress was faster.

Despite this the DC man admits that the site is inspiring.

"I know it sounds cliché, but I feel that Americans will re-build and I believe in that."

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