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Construction workers and equipment excavate the World Trade Center site in 2008. The latest search through 9/11 debris will include materials taken from parts of the WTC site which could not previously been accessed. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
September 11

Authorities resume search for human remains in New York's 9/11 debris

Eleven years after the 2001 attacks, about 60 truckloads of debris are again being searched for the remains of missing victims.

AUTHORITIES IN NEW YORK have begun another attempt at recovering some of the remains of the victims of the September 11 attacks – sifting through debris removed from the World Trade Center site.

About 60 truckloads of debris, which were removed by construction crews working on the revamped WTC complex in recent years, are being sifted through in the hope that even small body parts could be found which belong to those who died in New York, but whose remains were never found.

2,753 people died in New York, including people who were on board the two aircraft flown into the twin towers of the WTC – but remains have only been officially attributed to 1,634 of them.

The last search for remains was undertaken in 2010 – but this time the search will include debris taken from parts of the site which had previously been inaccessible to workers.

“We have been monitoring the World Trade Center site over time and monitoring the construction,” said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office. “And if they see any material that could possibly contain human remains, we collect that material.”

About 9,000 human remains recovered from the ruins of the towers remain unidentified because they are too degraded to match victims by DNA identification.

The remains are stored at an undisclosed location, monitored by the medical examiner’s office, and will eventually be transferred to a chamber at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Some victims’ families expressed impatience that the city has only just uncovered more debris.

“Quite frankly, they should’ve excavated this and searched it 12 years ago,” said Diane Horning, whose son Matthew died in the attacks.

“Instead, they built service roads and construction roads and were more worried about the building and the tourism than they were about the human remains.”

A difficult process, in more ways than one

The city’s efforts to identify September 11 victims have long been fraught with controversy.

In April 2005, the city’s chief medical examiner, Charles Hirsch, told families his office would be suspending identification efforts because it had exhausted the limits of DNA technology.

But just a year later, the discovery of more human remains – on a bank tower roof, and in a manhole near Ground Zero – outraged families who said the search for their loved ones had been rushed initially.

The findings prompted a renewed – and expensive – search that uncovered 1,500 pieces of remains.

Some victims’ relatives meanwhile tried to sue city authorities over their decision to move 1.6 million tons of material from the WTC site to the Fresh Kills landfill, saying the material might contain victims’ ashes and should have been given a proper burial.

The lawsuit was dismissed, and unsuccessfully appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Jim Riches pulled his son’s mangled body out of the rubble at the WTC, but phone calls still filtered in years afterwards, as authorities kept identifying more pieces of his son’s remains.

“They’ll call you and they’ll tell you, ‘We found a shin bone,’” Riches said. “Or, ‘We found an arm bone.’ We held them all together and then we put them in the cemetery.

“We would like to see the other 40 per cent of the families who have never recovered anything to at least someday have a piece of their loved one,” Riches said. “That they can go to a cemetery and pray.”

Additional reporting by AP

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