9/11 Relatives Allowed to Pay Respects at Ground Zero

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NEW YORK (AP) - For many Sept. 11 victims' relatives, the World Trade Center site is hallowed ground. Some, like Sally Regenhard, have never received any of their loved ones' remains, and so have never been able to bury them.

"I feel my son is there," said Regenhard, the mother of a firefighter killed in the 2001 terrorist attack. "He could be there in a physical way, but also in a spiritual way."

She and other victims' relatives were relieved after reaching a deal with the city that will allow them to mourn on Sept. 11 this year at the site where their loved ones perished, a tradition that had been imperiled when the city made plans to move next month's commemoration away from ground zero.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with the families Thursday and agreed to their proposal that they be allowed to go down briefly into the seven-story pit that was the trade center's basement to pay their respects.

The city had announced last month that the sixth anniversary ceremony could not be held at the 16-acre trade center site, as it had been each year since the 2001 attacks. Officials said ongoing construction made the area too dangerous for such a large gathering.

But Bloomberg said Thursday that the families' proposal for "a very limited and controlled level of access" to the pit had been deemed safe by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the lower Manhattan site.

"We will work with the Port Authority to allow family members to safely descend the ramp" into the pit, he said in a statement.

Family members arrived at the meeting armed with charts and a map outlining their proposal, Regenhard said. Ultimately, the mayor agreed to allow family members to descend all the way to the level of bedrock.

"They'll just have a moment to toss their flowers on the sacred ground," said Regenhard, who declared herself "very, very happy" with the agreement.

The main memorial ceremony will be held, as the city originally planned, at a plaza off the site's southeast corner, Bloomberg said. The families had objected that the park was too small.

Some relatives of those who died had been alarmed that there was to be no access to what they view as a sacred burial site. Every year on previous anniversaries, thousands who lost loved ones have gone to the site for the reading of the victims' names and to lay flowers in the pit, touching the bare bedrock.

When the families expressed concern about the new plans, the city partially relented and said that there would be some access to the southern border of the site on the anniversary and that mourners could lay flowers in that street-level area.

But the families pushed for the meeting with Bloomberg to argue their case, and Regenhard said they didn't discuss anything else with him.

In announcing the agreement, Bloomberg repeated his position that holding the full ceremony at the site would have put mourners in danger.

"It's not safe," he told reporters a day earlier. "We're not going to put anybody's life in jeopardy. We've had too much tragedy on that site."

The group of families had insisted that they have a First Amendment right to gather at the site. They had threatened to take the issue to court if it was not resolved in their favor.