After years of debate and controversy, work has finally begun on the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in New York. Three huge steel beams, one of which was covered with poignant messages from families of 9/11 victims, were ceremoniously lowered into place Tuesday to mark the beginning of the construction work.
Construction workers, politicians and architects looked on and applauded as a massive crane lifted the first 31-foot (9.3-meter) beam and set it in place on the southern edge of the tower's base. The 25-ton column was painted with an American flag and the words "Freedom Tower."
One of the three columns was covered with signatures of families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was also signed by Daniel Libeskind, one of the architects who designed the Freedom Tower, and bore pictures of firefighters killed in the 9/11 attacks.
"Today the steel rises, the Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of Sept. 11, and the people of New York and the people of America can be proud," New York Governor George Pataki said in a speech to mark the ceremony. "America's strength is evident in these columns of steel, the footings for the great monument to freedom that is rising on this hallowed site."
"Rising from the heart of the World Trade Center site, the Freedom Tower will symbolize the spirit of our city and our nation -- inspiring, soaring and undefeated," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented.
The 1,776-foot (532.8-meter) tower, due to open in 2011, is to be the tallest of the five skyscrapers planned to replace the trade center. Lengthy negotiations over financing, security and design have delayed the project.
The new tower has already had one groundbreaking. Politicians laid a granite cornerstone in July 2004 to begin construction. However the building had to be moved after city police said it was too close to traffic, making it vulnerable to terrorism.
Human remains were recently discovered at the Ground Zero site. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, more than 20,800 remains had been recovered, with nearly 11,000 of those being identified. Some 1,148 of the 2,749 victims of the 9/11 attacks have yet to be recovered or identified.