NEW YORK - More than 100 fragments of human remains were found in the past four days at Ground Zero, New York officials have said, prompting Mayor Michael Bloomberg to defend the World Trade Centre site cleanup.
Utility workers removing rubble from manholes discovered some bones last Thursday, prompting a renewed search for such remains. Since then, a total of 114 human bones and bone fragments have been uncovered in additional searches, the city's chief medical examiners office said on Monday.
Bloomberg told reporters he was at a loss to explain why the bones had not been discovered sooner. "It's tragic that a handful of places were apparently not done, not cleaned or scrutinized as well as they should have been," he said.
The discovery is the latest debacle surrounding the rebuilding effort of the World Trade Centre after bickering over financing, security and design already severely delayed plans for the site.
Families of victims, who previously criticised rebuilding plans as insensitive and irrelevant to lives lost, said the city had failed to conduct a proper cleanup.
"It is reprehensible the way they are going about this," said Jim McCaffrey, whose firefighter brother-in-law died in the attacks. His remains have never been found.
"We are not against rebuilding and development but we say at least search these areas properly. The city is stonewalling that progress."
More than five years after the attacks, 1,150 of the 2,749 victims of the New York attacks have either not been identified or not recovered.
Families of September 11 victims have called for construction to be halted while a specialised US Department of Defence team investigates the site.
But Bloomberg said the city would not shut down construction while searches continued on the western edge of the site where commemoration ceremonies for the families of victims are held on each anniversary of the attacks.
Charges by September 11 family members that the city had bungled what he called the "world's greatest recovery effort" were unfounded and disrespectful to rescue workers, Bloomberg said. "The practical reality is you can't be in every place."
Families of victims said the discovery of bone fragments was latest disappointment in the aftermath of the attacks.
"This is coming back to haunt the families of the 9/ll victims," said Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian Regenhard died at the site. His remains have never been found.
"The families are so disheartened with the entire process and the way they have handled the entire aftermath, focusing on the rebuilding rather than the sanctity of human life and death," she said.
The city said it would continue to search 12 areas and would create an additional schedule for other areas.
"They are continuing to look every day," said a spokeswoman for the chief medical examiners office.