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A giant American flag is unfurled as the national anthem is plated at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. John Minchillo/PA Images
September 11

US pays tribute to 9/11 victims as pandemic forces socially distanced commemorations

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will pay their respects at the same memorial today.

AMERICANS ARE COMMEMORATING 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign.

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will pay their respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, victims’ relatives began gathering for split-screen remembrances, one at the 11 September memorial plaza at the World Trade Centre and another on a nearby corner, set up by a separate 9/11-related organisation.

The Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation objected to the memorial’s decision to forgo a longstanding tradition of having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes. Memorial leaders said the change for the 19th anniversary of the terror attacks was a coronavirus safety precaution.

Kathy Swift arrived early at the alternative ceremony, wearing a T-shirt honouring her killed brother, Thomas Swift, who worked in finance.

“We still have to remember,” said Swift. “The whole country’s going downhill. It’s one thing after another, and now with the Covid. I’m glad they’re still having this, though.”

Trump and Biden are both headed – at different times – to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Vowing to never forget the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11, Trump tweeted that the United States is honouring a commitment made in 2001 to always remember the “innocent Americans who were senselessly killed”.

The anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion as the US grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, 9/11 families say it is important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks at the trade centre, the Pentagon in Washington and near Shanksville in 2001.

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