'Rubberneckers' making the site a tourist attraction

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There are about 5,000 bodies beneath the rubble. Yesterday, when the wind blew from a certain direction, there was an uncomfortably sweet smell from it. But even thathas not stopped the ruins of the World Trade Centre from becoming a morbid tourist attraction.

Welcome to Rubbernecker Central, the shrunken perimeter around the scene of the worst terrorist atrocity in history. Here, people stop, gape, take pictures and, in some dreadful instances, bend to pick up rubble as a souvenir.

The barriers in the Wall Street district of New York have, by necessity, retreated to a point where the mangled wreckage of the towers is painfully visible. As a result, some New Yorkers are seeing the wreckage for the first time; they stop in their tracks, some burst into tears while others, usually tourists, pose unashamedly for photographs.

Congestion is worst at the junction of Broadway and Liberty, a stone's throw from the New York Stock Exchange. Here, legions of police officers have to yell to keep pedestrians moving, but it is an impossible task. "It's just human nature, but we can't let it turn into a mob thing," said Detective David Guevara. "Everybody wants to take a picture, but we can't let this area clog up with people. It becomes a safety issue; if someone shouted that a building was toppling over, people would run and some would be trampled."

That did not seem to bother those who simply would not move until they had the picture they wanted: the bedraggled cop, the dusty firefighter, the exhausted volunteer worker or the sun sending shafts through the smoke at just the right angle. "I got shoved out of the way by a cop and all I was doing was taking a picture," said a tourist, Eric Larssen, from Stockholm. "This is the biggest event in our lifetime. It's only natural that people would want to see it for themselves. Is it a tourist attraction? Yes, I suppose it is, the way the grassy knoll is in Dallas or Pompeii in Italy. They will build a shrine of some sort and that will become a tourist attraction. I suppose the problem here is that we arrived too soon."

It is understandable that New Yorkers should want to stare incredulously at the space that used to be filled by the two landmarks. But the behaviour of some tourists lacks decorum and respect. A young holidaymaker with a German accent jumped over a barrier, grabbed a piece of concrete and ran off. Two Japanese girls posed in front of the rubble, smiling, while a third took their picture. "It really isn't too good – there are still thousands of bodies under there," said Vincent Lupoli, a security guard based nearby. "They're constantly trying to get emergency vehicles down here but the rubberneckers are getting in the way a lot of the time."

Others had more valid reasons and a visit for them was cathartic. A messenger, aged 25, who declined to give his name, was shaken as he took pictures. "We had clients in those buildings – I regularly deliver there," he said. "What if I'd been in when the jets hit? Would I have gotten out? It could so easily be me under there instead of someone else, and that feels very strange."

Despite the attraction, shopkeepers say the presence of tourists doesn't make up for the business lost through of the absence of thousands of workers. Only one, who sold disposable cameras, said trade was up, but he asked not to be named for fear of being accused of profiteering from the attack.

Others are not so coy. Locals talk of hawkers in Chinatown selling pictures of the impact of the planes after crashing into the towers; they were quickly arrested after passers-by complained to police. And there are reports, too, of an internet auction company acting quickly to halt the sale of rubble from the twin towerruins on its website.