Even as the US continues to grapple with the trail of destruction being left behind by two ravaging hurricanes in less than three weeks, Americans marked the 16th anniversary of the deadly September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil.
The World Trade Centre, once the epicentre of finance and business, was flattened by the horrifying and tragic attacks of September 11, which also saw hijacked planes crash into the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on that fateful day.
Each year, thousands come to pay their respects and offer prayers, or simply stand silent at the site, known as “ground zero.” This scene was also repeated on Monday – September 11 – when the nation paid homage to the victims of the two terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centre site.
Nearly a thousand people – relatives, friends and even foreign tourists – gathered on Monday at the site, with many holding pictures and carrying names of their loved ones who perished in the two horrifying attacks carried out by terrorists 16 years ago.
The solemn occasion started with a moment of silence with bells chiming in the background, and relatives and others reading out names of the almost 3,000 victims killed in the deadliest terrorist attacks carried out on US soil.
One woman, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told Bernama in a cracking voice that it was difficult for her to imagine that 16 years had already passed since she lost a relative “without having an opportunity to see him one final moment.”
Even as the annual September 11 commemoration turns into something of a ritual, many are using it as a means to reflect and pray that the world, fraught with violence and the perils of extremism, will witness a period of peace and harmony.
“I hope this immense loss of human life would force people to think of the uniqueness of our planet – that there is no other place for us to live, but here,” the lady said, overcome by emotion.
At the White House, President Donald Trump, who is from New York, commemorated the anniversary by observing a moment of silence with his wife Melania Trump.
The service was held at 8.46am local time, when the first plane crashed into one of the twin towers on Sept 11, 2001. This was Trump’s first September 11 anniversary as president.
Both the president and the first lady also participated in another ceremony at the Pentagon. Defence secretary Jim Mattis and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Joseph Dunford were present at the ceremony held on Monday morning for the relatives of the victims. This was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony and brief speeches.
A ceremony was also held at the memorial near the Shanksville site where a hijacked plane crashed as passengers tried to overcome the terrorists onboard. Vice President Mike Pence attended this ceremony.
Nevertheless, the sombre mood at the memorial service at “ground zero’ in downtown New York contrasted sharply with the resilience and the ability of New Yorkers to bounce back.
This was evident from the usual sights of office workers rushing to their place of work, small shopkeepers inviting customers to buy their merchandise, or food cart vendors selling coffee and bagels to the people working in the neighbourhood.
The resilience is further evident as reconstruction work continues at full steam. A Greek Orthodox church, which was destroyed when one of the trade centre buildings collapsed, is expected to open in 2018, according to tentative plans announced.
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson issued a statement to mark the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, which said: “Today we remember the victims of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and honour the heroes who valiantly saved many lives that day, even sacrificing their own.
“Their courage on that day remains an example of the character of the American people in the face of evil. Though our country was wounded that day, today we remind the world that terrorism will never defeat the United States.
“This date also marks a solemn tragedy where four Americans, including two of our State Department colleagues, were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Their loss will always weigh heavy in our hearts.
“Our hearts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones to terrorism. We remain committed to stopping those extremists who plot, enable, and carry out attacks on the innocent,” Tillerson said.