Four years on, New York is still bickering about Ground Zero, and burying its dead

The remains of another victim of the terror attacks were finally identified and given a proper funeral last week
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The Independent US

The empty pit that Ground Zero has become remains a place of crumbling cement and weeds clinging to ledges and crannies as squabbles about priorities for the site remain unsettled. Politicians have tried to put a brave face on the absence of progress. Most significant has been the hold-up in construction of the signature 1,776ft Freedom Tower. It has been delayed by disputes among architects and a recent re-drafting of its blueprint to make it less vulnerable to future attacks.

The problems were acknowledged for the first time last week by New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Although another $10bn (£5.4bn) would be spent on construction at Ground Zero in the next six months, more might be necessary. "Given the magnitude of the project, the progress probably wasn't adequate," he said.

While all sides seem to have settled on the Freedom Tower design and where it will rise from, a new and highly emotional dispute has opened over plans for a cultural centre at Ground Zero that will incorporate the International Freedom Center museum and an art gallery, called the Drawing Center.

Some families of victims of the 9/11 attacks have launched a campaign to have the Drawing Center excluded, claiming that it plans to show artwork not directly related to the terror attacks. Officials of the Drawing Center have said they will offer exhibits showing other great moments of sacrifice and loss in American history. Some of families complain that such exhibits are inappropriate and would detract from the main reason to visit to site ­ to ponder 9/11 and those who died there.

Debra Burlingame, whose husband was a pilot on the plane that struck the Pentagon, has formed a group called "Take Back the Memorial". She and some supporters have voiced suspicions that some exhibits in the Center could be "un-American". The visiting public would "come to see 9/11", she wrote in The Wall Street Journal, but instead "will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond." Frustrated New York officials were forced last week to bring in a mediator.

With moments of silence planned for this morning to coincide with the times that the two planes struck the Twin Towers, the controversies will be put aside at least for the day. Inevitably, today's 9/11 anniversary will be partially eclipsed by Katrina, a drama that is still unfolding over a far larger area.

The interweaving of America's dual tragedies has already begun. President George Bush will start today marking the anniversary in Washington before flying for a third time to visit the devastationin the Mississippi delta. In recent days he has deliberately harnessed the two events, evoking America's courage after the terror attacks as a means of reassuring the hurricane victims.

Emotional closure is still absent for so many who either have not been able to bury any identified remains of their lost ones, some incinerated by the impact of the two airliners on the towers, or remain in the dark as to exactly what befell them at the World Trade Center or in the Pentagon.

Relatives and friends of the New York fireman colleagues used to call " Biscuit" ­ his real name was Gerald Baptiste ­ found their peace only last Wednesday, when remains that had last been identified were brought for a funeral service at St Patrick's cathedral in Manhattan.

An opinion poll released last week by the Zogby organisation showed 69 per cent still say they think about the 9/11 terror attacks at least once a week. "It is clear from the results that the American public has been deeply emotionally affected by the events of September 11 ... Regardless of income, race, gender, or location," said John Zogby.

US Remembers

"Americans remember the fears and uncertainty and confusion of that terrible morning. But above all, we remember the resolve of our nation to defend our freedom, rebuild a wounded city, and care for our neighbours in need"

President Bush yesterday

"We are living that part of history. We learn from the past"

Ailyn Alonso, of Marymand, at the site where one of the hijacked planes hit the Pentagon

"It's the only way to recapture the worst day in the history of our city ­ and the best day in the history of our city"

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Friday

"My dad always used to say, 'Get over it, get on with it. Stop crying.' I can't bring him back. He would kill me if I didn't get on with my life"

Erica Basnicki, from Toronto, who lost her father in the attacks