The Memorial Glade acknowledges those whose illnesses and deaths have come years after the towers collapsed.
Every year on September 11, relatives and friends of people killed at the World Trade Centre return to the memorial that fills the footprints of the towers. The mayor, other top city officials, even presidential candidates, have joined them as the victims' names are read. Many run their fingers over some of the thousands of names etched in bronze and wedge stems of flowers into the letters.
But there is another anniversary related to the attacks, one that often receives far less attention: May 30, the day in 2002 when the cleanup of ground zero officially concluded with a modest ceremony.
This year was different. On Thursday, a crowd of families, friends and survivors with ties to a segment of victims that continues to grow gathered under a canopy of fog as the National September 11 Memorial and Museum dedicated an addition called the Memorial Glade. It is meant to acknowledge the ever-extending tendrils of the tragedy, recognising the people — largely rescue and recovery workers — whose illnesses and deaths have come years after the towers collapsed.
"The story of 9/11 is only half written," said Rob Serra, who has several illnesses that are connected to his work at ground zero as a rookie in the New York Fire Department.
"We might have stopped the recovery efforts on that day," he added, "but for a lot of us, it never stopped."
The glade consists of a pathway flanked by six monoliths protruding from the ground that weigh as much as 18000kg and are inlaid with steel from the towers. An inscription on a marker commemorates "those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness and death."
It also credited their "perseverance and courage" — noting that it "renewed the spirit of a grieving city, gave hope to the nation and inspired the world."
"Like the heroes we lost on 9/11, their selfless acts provided light that helped guide us through our darkest hours and they allowed our city rise again," said former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, chairman of the September 11 memorial. "For some, the end of the recovery was the beginning of an even more difficult journey of sickness and disease."
In recent years, the legacy of the attacks has been tangled in a kind of awkward adolescence. The initial horrors have long subsided, and the physical scars that once marred Lower Manhattan have healed. Still, there are many who continue wrestling with the toll of the attacks, and they are not yet ready for September 11 to be regarded as history.
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The glade now serves as a subtle — and yet in other ways glaring — signal of just how long a reach the attacks have had, still stirring ripples of anguish as rescue and recovery workers suffer and die from ailments that doctors have traced to ground zero.
The workers have been the subject of an enduring political fight for financial support. There has also been substantial, and at times bitter, disagreement over just how strong a role the poisonous cloud of dust and fumes breathed in by firefighters, police officers and aid workers has played in their health travails.
Even so, rescue and recovery workers have confronted an alarming spread of maladies. Many have been diagnosed with different forms of cancer, as well as scarring of the heart and lungs. Researchers have discovered links to stomach problems, sleeping troubles and hearing loss.
The fallout has not been limited to New York City. In the days and weeks after September 11, 2001, thousands of workers traveled to ground zero from Texas, California, Virginia, Georgia and elsewhere.
Two years ago, a heart-related episode caused a fire chief in Florida to crash an emergency vehicle while driving 105km/h on a highway. His doctor said it was caused by scarring of his heart likely stemming from his two weeks at ground zero. The chief survived, yet he still cannot bring himself to return to New York.
Last year, in New York, firefighters filled Fifth Avenue for the funeral of Chief Ronald R. Spadafora, the 178th member of the Fire Department, and the highest ranking, to die of World Trade Centre-related illnesses. (Another 343 members died in the September 11 attacks.)
Spadafora, who was 63 and had blood cancer, oversaw safety for a recovery operation that a federal labor official once described as "potentially the most dangerous workplace in the United States."
The memorial, which opened at the site of the attacks a decade later, replaced a knot of steel and debris with a placid plaza. It has drawn some 46 million visitors, officials said.
The footprints of the towers have been transformed with reflecting pools and waterfalls powerful enough to drown out much of the city's din. Bronze parapets have been stencil cut with the names of the victims from New York, the Pentagon and United Air Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It also includes the names of the six people killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre.
The new One World Trade Centre looms overhead, and it is surrounded by gleaming new buildings, a shopping centre packed with luxury brands and the Oculus, the audaciously designed transit hub that looks like a hunched birdlike spine breaching the earth.
The monoliths in the glade were shaped by artists in Vermont and brought by flatbed truck to the city. The plaza, which rests above the subterranean museum, had to be reinforced with high-density Styrofoam, concrete and steel rebar to support the monoliths' enormous weight.
"What a beautiful place for our heroes," said Caryn Pfiefer, whose husband, Raymond, served at ground zero and died from cancer in 2017.
Written by: Rick Rojas
Photographs by: Demetrius Freeman
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES