The Government will pay for relatives of British victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre to visit New York, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday.
Two close relatives of Britons lost or missing in the atrocity are being offered flights, travel insurance and three nights' accommodation in New York.
Mr Straw said the Foreign Office was working hard to arrange the flights as quickly as possible. Between 500 and 600 people will probably be flown out. Once there, they will see for themselves the piles of rubble that it is feared may never give up the bodies of their missing loved ones.
The numbers involved bring home the fact that America's tragedy is also Britain's worst postwar disaster. By the time rescuers give up hope of finding survivors in almost 500,000 tonnes of metal and pulverised concrete, Foreign Office officials expect the British death toll to be in the region of 300.
Police family liaison officers are already in contact with the families and arrangements should be in place within the next few days, the FO said.
Mr Straw said: "Because of our close contact with the families, we know, and understand how keen many of the families are to get to New York. We are moving as fast as we can to make this happen."
Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture and the minister who has been made responsible for Government liaison with affected families, said: "These families have suffered the most terrible loss, and we have a responsibility to do all we can to help them." The FO stressed that families who travelled to New York were not likely to be allowed close to the site because safety restrictions were still in place.
More than 20,000 Britons had already contacted help-lines, desperate to trace missing friends and relatives, Ms Jowell said. "The whole aim of this is to try to relieve those families of the kind of practical organisation which is a further source of stress at an unbearable time like this. What we want to ensure is that lack of money to go is no obstacle for families who want to get out there."
Mike Cohen, the British deputy consul-general in New York, said: "The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the Foreign Office will facilitate flights and accommodation for anyone whose loved ones are missing. One or two have made their own way over, but we are making arrangements for two to three large groups somewhere between 500 and 600 to come here. It is part of the process of grieving.
"The scale of the tragedy is absolutely staggering. No one has ever seen anything like this before. It is a huge task for us, but everyone is pitching in and doing their best."
The Foreign Office said it would either organise two tickets per bereaved family or reimburse them £500 travelling costs. It has a helpline for friends and relatives who have not yet been in contact: 020-7008 0000.Reuse content