David Usborne's New York diary

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The Independent Online

It is the season of sad anniversaries. We have only just marked the 12 months that have passed since Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans. When that city's mayor, Ray Nagin, found himself being needled by a CBS television reporter about the slow progress of reconstruction there, he rather tactlessly shot back: "You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed, and it's five years later". If New Yorkers took any umbrage it was surely because the man was perfectly right. Who would have guessed that five years after the devastation at Ground Zero on September 11, the 16-acre site would be as it is today - a barren pit?

* Every single aspect of the project has been contested, but finally things are looking up - literally. Foundation work has begun on the 1,776ft Freedom Tower and memorial. Last week we were shown computer renderings of the trio of towers that, hopefully, will line the eastern edge of Ground Zero, two of them designed by Lords Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. I was impressed, but I will be more excited if and when they are actually built. Manhattan needs daring new architecture. Shame it will all be concentrated in one neighbourhood, though.

* I finally girded myself three nights ago and watched Oliver Stone's film, World Trade Center. It's about two police officers, one played by Nicolas Cage, entering the towers only to be buried alive by the falling concrete and glass. Like United 93 directed by Paul Greengrass, the film is hard to watch, especially if, like me, you witnessed the collapse of the towers first-hand. Stone made me cover my face when he showed frames of a person jumping. Images of the real thing haunt me still today; I try to block them out. I'm glad these films are out though. I had never really given a thought to thoseburied but not dead.

* I would not have predicted New York would get through five years after 9/11 unscathed. But I am far from confident the day will not come when I find myself running to cover some fresh horror. Nor am I alone. A poll last week in 'The New York Times' revealed that two thirds of New Yorkers are "very concerned" about the threat of a new attack.

* They opened a small museum next to Ground Zero last week called the Tribute Center. Exhibits include a huge girder from the Twin Towers, twisted like an ice cream, as well as a window from one of the crashed aircraft. But I was moved most by a wall showing missing-person flyers. The hardest interviews I have done in 20 years of reporting were with the people putting up these posters. Almost none of them ever did see their loved ones again.

* So, tomorrow most of us will try to take a few private moments just to reflect on events that even now are a little hard to grasp. I still have the small mask that someone made me wear when I walked down to the site at four in the morning on September 12. It's funny that I have kept it all this time - it is my own private memorial, I suppose.

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