By Charles Laurence in New York, TELEGRAPH.CO.UK
The remains of hundreds of victims of the September 11 attacks are to be permanently buried in the world’s largest rubbish dump, to the consternation of their grieving relatives.
In the aftermath of 9/11, more than half a million tons of dust and ashes from the Twin Towers were taken to the sprawling Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island.
More than 100 years’ worth of refuse from New York City had accumulated at the dump before it was finally closed just six months before the attacks. The rubble from the World Trade Center ended up covering some 48 acres.
Relatives were assured that ashes would be returned after they were sorted, but city authorities have since balked at the estimated $450 million cost of transferring them again. Instead they have promised to lay a 2,200-acre park on top of the dump, whose rotting contents smell strongly of methane, and to erect a memorial to the victims.
Relatives of 1,169 of the 3,000 who died have yet to receive any remains, and many are outraged at the authorities’ decision.
Diane Horning, whose son Matthew, 24, died in the North Tower, where he worked for the insurance company Marsh and McLennan, said: "We were promised the remains – any and all remains of the victims – and now we discover that my lost son is to spend eternity in a rubbish dump.
"This is morally reprehensible and emotionally unacceptable, and we are going to fight it all the way."
Matthew made two mobile phone calls to his family after the first jet struck the World Trade Center. He asked his father to tell his fiancee, Maura, that he loved her. His last word, sent on a pager message, was: "Scared".
His mother, who believes that the cost of moving the ashes has been exaggerated tenfold, said: "They have already started bulldozing junk and debris on top of our loved ones and they have left our son in the garbage. They promised that this would never happen, and they are trying to cover up their mistake, literally and figuratively."
Mrs Horning and her husband, Kurt, a retired teacher, have formed the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, a group campaigning for a formal cemetery with markers commemorating each of the 2,749 known victims. A petition on the group’s website has more than 18,000 signatures.
Last week the families of victims were invited to a planning meeting on Staten Island but officials offered no concessions.
According to city proposals, the mound of debris will be shaped into two embankments of 1,368 ft and 1,362 ft. Each will be as long as the 110-storey Twin Towers were high. Visitors will be able to walk in between the embankments, looking towards the Trade Center site across the harbour.
Officials say that a cemetery for the ashes would cost at least $45 million and that a memorial will be a focal point of the new Trade Center.
However, Mrs Horning is enraged by suggestions that it will be a "symbolic" cemetery. "Only if my son is ‘symbolically’ dead," she says. "But if he’s really dead then I really want him buried."
The governor of New York, George Pataki, is said to be sympathetic and the New Jersey legislature has passed a law ordering the Port Authority, which owned the Trade Center, to move the dust and ash. Yet it is toothless unless the New York legislature passes the same law.
The office of the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pointed out that the coroner’s office was still trying to identify 10,260 fragments of remains gathered at Fresh Kills. Those that remained unidentified would be interred in the official memorial at the Twin Tower site.
The mayor said: "After months of evaluating the complex concerns raised by members of the Families for Proper Burial, we have concluded that we will proceed with plans for a respectful memorial at the recovery site."