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Covid pandemic and dispute cast shadows over 9/11 memorial ceremonies

Names of victims killed in the 9/11 terror attacks against the World Trade Centre in New York. A memorial and museum have been built on the site.
Names of victims killed in the 9/11 terror attacks against the World Trade Centre in New York. A memorial and museum have been built on the site. © RFI/Ariane Gaffuri
4 min

The tributes to victims and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States will be different this year. Not only has Covid-19 and the related health restrictions cast a shadow over the proceedings, but there will be two parallel ceremonies after a disagreement between the National Museum and a private foundation.

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 killed 2,977 people and injured thousands at the World Trade Center in downtown New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which holds a ceremony each year on the memorial plaza at the trade center site, announced that family members would not be reading the names of the victims because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, a recording of the names will be played on loudspeakers.

The memorial has invited 6,100 family members to attend the ceremony on Friday morning. They will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

"In past years, we have used a stage for the readings which has served as a focal point for people to gather around. This year, such gatherings would create a potentially unsafe situation," the Museum statement said.

"Moreover, readers would need to remove their masks to read the names, thus potentially putting themselves and others at risk. No matter how we looked at this situation, we came to the same conclusion. Public safety must come first, and that necessitates changes to this year’s program."

This announcement came as a shock to the family charity Tunnel to Towers Foundation, founded to honor the memory of a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center.

Founder Frank Siller told the press that his group will hold its own commemoration of the attacks so that family members can read the victims’ names aloud.

 “We feel as if that’s something that needs to be done, so we are taking on that responsibility,” said Siller, who created the foundation to honor the memory of his firefighter brother, Stephen.

Siller said that not allowing families to read the names of their loved ones "robs this solemn ceremony of much of its significance".

The alternative ceremony will take place in front of a fire station just south of the memorial plaza and, like the official ceremony, will begin at 8:40 a.m and will be livestreamed.

When reading the names, family members will stand alone at two podiums six feet apart, Siller said, adding that anyone without a mask will be given one.

Bells will be rung across the city to mark six separate moments of silence, coinciding with the times when hijacked planes crashed into each of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, and also when each tower collapsed.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum, chaired by Michael Bloomberg, will also go ahead with its Tribute In Light display throughout the evening, where blue beams shine into the sky to resemble the Twin Towers that were destroyed in the attacks.

Last month, citing concerns about Covid-19, officials said the tribute would be cancelled as it would put a team of about 40 stagehands and electricians at risk of infection.

But in response to public anger, the Memorial's event was given the go-ahead.

The United States has reported 190,887 deaths from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, 33,019 in the state of New York alone, according to statistics compiled on 9 September.

This puts the country in number one position in front of Brazil, India and Mexico.

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