From the children of the dead, a poignant tribute

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The Independent US

Church bells will toll across New York City at 8.48 this morning, marking the time when the first of two hijacked aircraft struck the World Trade Centre two years ago today. At a ceremony at ground zero, 200 children who lost mothers or fathers will read the list of names of the 2,792 who died.

But while America will be asked to stop to remember the dead of 11 September, the tenor of the anniversary promises to be more low key than last year. George Bush, who visited the site last year, will remain in Washington, and television networks will mostly maintain regular programming.

It is not, however, as if the memories of America's darkest day have been put to rest. The remains of a victim were found this week by construction workers at a building site close to ground zero. And thousands of relatives have still not had parts of their lost ones identified two years later.

On Monday, a firefighter who died in the attacks was laid to rest in Brooklyn, the last of 343 memorials for fallen firemen. But because no remains of Michael Paul Ragusa, 29, had been found, his coffin was interred containing only a vial of his blood and his uniform.

Today's ceremony also comes against an increasingly complicated legal background. On Tuesday, a New York judge issued a ruling formally allowing relatives to sue those they believe may have failed in their responsibility to prepare for such a calamity. They include the owner of the twin towers, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the two airlines involved, American and United.

Some of the victims' families are threatening to stay away from the ceremony to protest against the building plans for ground zero and, in particular, the slow prpgress of plans for a memorial structure.

A large group of these families made their anger known at a protest at ground zero yesterday.

Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, will lead the service, accompanied by George Pataki, the New York state Governor, and Vice-President Dick Cheney. But Mr Bloomberg has insisted that political leaders will take a low profile. Instead the children will have the stage in the pit where the towers once stood.

Among the children will be 11-year-old Emily Tompsett of Garden City, Long Island, whose father was among those killed. Like the other children involved in the service, she will read a long list of names, ending with the name of her father, Stephen, who worked for the financial news service Instinet.

"It was her choice to do this and I think it is actually very good," her mother, Dorry Tompsett, 50, said. "Her dad would feel proud of her. In fact, I am sure he is proud of her." Mrs Tompsett said her daughter was doing well, in spite of the loss. "We used to take her everywhere with us and for 10 years she had all the love and security she needed. Plus, she is a very strong person and a very positive person. Of course, she has had to mature very fast, because of what has happened."

About 3,050 children lost a parent in New York on 11 September, of whom 2,172 were 17 or younger on the day. Emily says she hears her father's voice when she works on her computer or does maths problems. He was a computer scientist.

The court ruling on Tuesday complicates a dilemma faced by thousands of relatives of the dead. They have until December to file for compensation from a federal fund set up by the US Congress after the tragedy. If they accept the money, they will be barred from taking legal action and possibly winning much higher sums through the courts.

In a 49-page ruling, Judge Alvin Hellerstein said: "The injured and the representatives of the thousands who died from the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11 2001 are entitled to seek compensation." Experts said it could open the doors to serial lawsuits. The defendants say they will appeal against the ruling.

At dusk tonight, the sky above Manhattan will be pierced by the "Tribute of Light", twin beams from spotlights that signify the fallen towers. They will shine for one night only and reappear on every anniversary.