One million six hundred and seventy-four thousand tons.

That's how much the Twin Towers weighed. And that's how much debris crews removed from lower Manhattan. The work is done now.

The rubble pile reached eight stories above street level. And there was at least that much below ground. The first means of removing debris was 5-gallon buckets and bare hands. Later, workers used everything from 30,000-pound excavators and acetylene torches to garden rakes to empty the site and look for remains. No one gave up working until it was done.

During that time, most of us returned to our lives, businesses, and safe routines. And only after 8-1/2 months did the World Trade Center debris crews get the same chance.

They survived toxic air, spontaneous subterranean fires, and impossibly mangled, red-hot steel three months after the collapse. When the Hudson River leaked through the wall of "The Pit," as the site was known, engineers and slant drillers held it back. No lives were lost during the cleanup.

Crews trucked the last piece of steel up the 516-foot ramp to ground level on May 30, 2002, behind an empty stretcher. There were no words, no speeches. Only music and applause as the firefighters, police, and construction workers exited Ground Zero for the last time. A sign still hangs over the site: We Will Never Forget.

September/October 2002

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