NEW YORK Sept. 11 victims' families will be allowed to return to ground zero to mourn their loved ones on the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks, officials said Friday.
The decision was a relief for family members who had been told last year they could not go back to the site while rebuilding continued. Many tearfully touched the ground at the base of the destroyed World Trade Center towers last Sept. 11, believing it would be their last chance for years to visit the ground where their loved ones died.
But officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, told victims' relatives at a meeting Friday that they could pay their respects at the site this September. The Port Authority said last month that every construction project at the site was behind schedule, and the agency is revising rebuilding estimates.
"They are going to open it to bedrock, which is great," said Monica Iken, whose husband, Michael, was killed at the trade center. "We need a place to go. People need to grieve."
The city, which organizes the anniversary ceremony, confirmed it would allow family members to go to the site. The main ceremony will be held at a park just southeast of ground zero.
"Like last year, we'll lead the nation in a day of remembrance that includes a ceremony at Zuccotti Park and access to the lower level for family members," said Stu Loeser, spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
At the ceremony, the names of more than 2,700 people killed at the trade center are read aloud. Bells ring to mark the moments when hijacked planes hit the towers and when they collapsed.
The city moved the event off ground zero to the park last year as construction progressed, and officials said visitors wouldn't be allowed down to the site. Officials changed their minds after victims' relatives protested. But the city and Port Authority said construction of office towers and the Sept. 11 memorial would make it impossible in future years to give family members access while building continued.
Last year, relatives walked a few blocks to a ramp leading down to the seven-story pit. They laid flowers in reflecting pools near the twin towers' footprints.
"We are working closely with the city on appropriate plans for family members to safely visit the site on 9/11," Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Friday.