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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 13:06 GMT
New York in mourning
Tributes to World Trade Center victims cover a wall
Curators started gathering debris within days
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By Malcolm Billings
BBC correspondent in New York
line

Many of the buildings that survived on the edge of Ground Zero had to be abandoned after the twin towers came down.

Mary Dierickx lived on the top floor of a building that was almost 100 years old.

All its windows were blown in by the storm of dust and debris that hit the building.

Dust covers a phone in a Battery Park City apartment
Debris from the aftermath of the attacks found its way into apartments
The block swayed violently as the shock wave and rubble hit the facade, but its steel frame held firm.

The air was full of burning objects hitting the building.

A computer crashed through the window of an adjoining apartment.

Mary has had to move away. Her home and all its contents are ruined and covered in a pale grey dust that in places is as fine as talcum powder.

"Don't touch anything," she said.

Destructive storm

We must not disturb it because it is a cocktail of pulverised concrete, marble and asbestos, and nobody is sure what it might be doing to our lungs.

In one corner of the kitchen, the dust had backed up against the wall.

There was paper among it with the edges singed. Memos and files from somebody's office - blown in by the violent storm of destruction on 11 September.

That sort of ephemera is now being seriously collected by museum organisations.

Curators started gathering material in the first few days after the disaster as they realised it could all disappear during the clean-up.

Rachel Uchitel searches for her fiance
Posters distributed by distraught relatives could be displayed in museums
People gave them World Trade Center security passes, samples of stationery, pictures of the building, menus from the restaurants, all the bric-a-brac of a building complex that was as big as a small town.

As impromptu memorials to the dead and missing were taken down from public places, the New York Historical Society wrapped them up and put them away for posterity.

There was no end to people's photographs pinned on sheets of calico or cotton, laid out on the ground or attached to railings.

Ghoulish?

Dried flowers, baseball hats, and teddy bears were also stuck on, and covering every inch there were messages in marking ink pleading for information about loved ones who had not come home.

Thousands of coloured drawings from children who had sent their condolences from all over the world jostled for space.

"Isn't it a bit ghoulish?" I wondered, as I looked at the shelves full of such material in the historical society's museum store room.

The Woolworth Building rises behind the ruins of the World Trade Center
Curators believe people will still want to see reminders of the attacks
"Don't people say that they'd like to forget the horror of that September day and make a fresh start?" I asked.

"No," curator Amie Weinstein told me. "On the contrary, people want us to preserve this material and have even started sending us items of clothing worn by family members who were killed."

There was a neatly ironed striped shirt which had been given as a personal memorial to someone whose body would probably never be found.

In a current exhibition at the museum, there is also a mashed up clump of strips of plastic that hang from the ceiling like a tortured mobile - a Venetian blind that someone had picked up from the street.

Many of the roadside memorials have been taken down.

Others, like the one attached to the railings around St Paul's Chapel on the edge of Ground Zero, are still being added to day and night.

Pictures of the missing cover the front of a van
Photos of the missing are still prevalent around New York's Financial District
The late 18th century building itself - one of the oldest in Lower Manhattan - withstood the shock wave and it is still being used as a refuge for rescue workers and contractors excavating the lower levels of the World Trade Center towers.

At one stage, the aisles of the church were lined with beds where rescue workers could be massaged during their frantic around-the-clock attempts to pull people from the wreckage.

Out in the churchyard, trees were torn up by the roots and the debris and rubble from the twin towers filled all the spaces between the gravestones.

I found a team of masonry specialists trying to save the headstones on the graves where many of New York's founding fathers lie.

Dust devastation

The dust storm had hit the soft brown sandstone with such force that the dust penetrated every crack.

Wearing goggles and masks the specialists are using needles and industrial vacuum cleaners to prise out the dust before it turns to concrete and fractures the gravestones.

The debris have largely been cleared, except for some caught in the topmost branches of the trees that survived.

The bits and pieces are a memorial in themselves and no-one has yet taken the decision to climb up and retrieve them.

Something flapping in the wind caught my eye.

It looked like a piece of material with a ribbon hanging from it.

I was told it was a waiter's apron - a reminder of the restaurant that was so popular at the top of New York's tallest building.

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