With the smoldering gray rubble a sorrowful backdrop, the families met for a memorial service filled with prayer and song.
Hundreds of mourners rose from their plastic chairs as Police Officer Daniel Rodriguez opened the service with a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Cardinal Edward Egan then delivered the invocation, standing at a podium draped in black.
"They were innocent and they were brutally, viciously, unjustly taken from us," said Egan, the leader of New York's Roman Catholic archdiocese. He called them "strong and dedicated citizens" who were "executives and office workers, managers and laborers."
"We are in mourning Lord, we have hardly any tears left to shed," he said.
They gathered, appropriately enough, on Church Street, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan. Row upon row, nearly every hand was full -- in one a handkerchief, in the other a photo -- like a sea of sadness under a bright blue sky, just like the morning of Sept.11.
For only the second time in the seven weeks since the attack, the round-the-clock recovery and demolition work at the site was halted to allow for the memorial service. The first time was on Oct. 11 at 8:48 a.m. - one month to the minute after the first hijacked plane struck the trade center's north tower - when a moment of silence was observed.
Yellow, white and purple flowers ringed a stage erected in front of a jagged mountain of darkened wreckage. On either side of the stage were huge video screens with images of American flags and the words "God Bless America" and "Sept. 11, 2001."
The crisp autumn air was tinged with an acrid smell from the debris, a constant in lower Manhattan since the twin towers collapsed. Although water was sprayed on smoldering spots in the wreckage before the service, a smoky cloud hung over the crowd, expected to number some 2,000. The drone of generators providing power for the service temporarily replaced the omnipresent roar of heavy machinery.
More than 4,000 people are still missing.
In a grim reminder of the scope of the disaster, crowds of relatives were taken to the site. Steven Fangman was one of those reluctant passengers.
"I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day," said Fangman. "Every day you wake up, every day it's over and over again, It's never going to go away. It's not a normal situation to lose a loved one."
His brother, Robert was a flight attendant aboard United flight 175, the plane that slammed into the South Tower -- parts of which are still standing.
"There's never going to be body to bury," reasons Fangman. "He was on the plane, it exploded, there's nothing left of him."
So instead, he and thousands of others were given an urn filled with dirt and ashes from the site -- the dust of a tragedy so incompreensible some relatives couldn't bring themselves to come.
As for the family members who did attend, many said it was their first visit to the area known as "ground zero." And for many of them, the sight of the destruction caused their jaws to drop.
"For a large number of families, the idea of being at the site was very important," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said earlier. "It was important to them to pray, and to feel a connection to the people they lost."
In addition to Giuliani, officials attending the service included New York Gov. George Pataki and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A chain-link fence ringing the site was hung with green mesh to shield the families from the throngs of bystanders who gathered nearby.
City officials say 4,167 people are still missing since the attacks and 465 bodies have been identified. Those numbers include passengers and crew on hijacked planes.
New York is facing a long and costly rebuilding project after the air attacks, and its sense of security has been further shaken by the discovery of anthrax in the city.
Five people have been sickened with anthrax in New York, the country's largest city with 8 million people, and all linked to media companies, while traces of the germ warfare bacteria also were found on sorting machines at the city's largest mail distribution center.
The aerial attacks in New York, as well as an attack by a another hijacked plane on the Pentagon and the crash of a fourth hijacked plane in Pennsylvania, prompted President Bush to declare war on terrorism with a bombing campaign against the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which harbors prime suspect Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born militant previously indicted for attacks on U.S. interests.
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