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Visit to Site of World Trade Center by Meg Munn MP

Saturday, December 1, 2001

My visit provided the opportunity to let the people of New York know the people of Sheffield shared their grief and shock at the events of 11 September.  Sheffield’s Lord Mayor, David Baker, had written to the Mayor of New York expressing the city’s sadness for the bereaved and our solidarity.  Peter Friscia of the New York Police Department accepted this letter on behalf of the Mayor of New York.

It was an unseasonably warm week in New York, but on the morning of our visit to the site of the World Trade Center it was wet and grey. Stepping out of the minibus some 100 metres away the smell of burning and the taste of dust were in the air. A wooden platform leads into the site - only after a short while did I realise that the wooden frame was covered in writing - messages from the bereaved to those who died. At one end a board lists the many countries from which the victims came and beneath it are laid tributes and mementos. It was here that the Parliamentary delegation laid a wreath from the House of Commons.

Peter Friscia showed us around the site. He had been working in his office a few blocks away when the first plane struck and had quickly joined the rescue operation. Recently he was shown a photograph of a burnt and twisted lump of metal - “They told me that was my car, I couldn’t recognise it,” he said. His close friend and fellow officer, Joe Vigiano, died. He was proud that Joe’s Police identity shield had been sent to the Queen in response to her request to honour the losses of the New York Police Department.

The area of the disaster was bigger than I expected, some 16 acres in total. In many ways it resembles a large construction site as work goes on to take down damaged buildings and to excavate the remains of the Twin Towers. The ferocity of the fire is apparent from the buildings around the site whose walls are blackened and burnt. A hose continues to damp down the fire still burning underground. It is eerily quiet compared to the rest of New York, hard now to imagine that here too were the familiar criss crossing streets, the traffic, homes and the offices of over 50,000 people.

Away from the site, memorials line a long wall.  Everywhere wet and bedraggled teddy bears had tributes written on their labels. More affecting than the damaged buildings, these simple memories of loved ones brought home the extent of the loss. To look at them proved the most harrowing part of the visit. Here and there photographs - a couple on their wedding day, a father holding his new born baby - memories of lives shattered on 11 September.  A temporary shelter housed the tributes to the police and fire officers who died. Their photographs in large numbers, a card from a child to his father on his birthday said “Even though you are dead we still love you, happy birthday Daddy.”

We asked how had New York changed - what did the people think. Pete told us that he thought that New Yorkers were nicer to each other now, that they were determined to go on and rebuild their way of life. There are plans to build on the site, bring back the jobs that have been lost whilst ensuring there is a fitting memorial to those who died. The people of New York will not let the terrorists win.

Meg Munn

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