By Julie Shapiro, Ben Fractenberg, Jill Colvin and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — Gone are the choking clouds of dust.
Gone are the burning fires and piles of rubble.
Gone are the remnants of the once-proud Twin Towers that once shone like a beacon for the rest of the world.
And gone are the 2,753 who perished at Ground Zero on 9/11.
Ten years after the terrorist attacks that changed the world as we know it, the city paused Sunday morning to look back and remember those who were lost, the suffering of their loved ones and the extraordinary heroism of so many that day.
"2,983 innocent men, women and children," said a solemn Mayor Michael Bloomberg, referencing the total number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. "Each had a face, a story, a life cut short from under them.
"Although we can never unsee what happened here, we can also see that the children who lost their parents have grown into adults, grandchildren have been born."
Ten years later gleaming spires once again are rising from the World Trade Center site. Lush trees line the memorial plaza, One World Trade Center is soaring above the Downtown skyline and the open pit that marked the site for years has begun to feel once again like a part of the Lower Manhattan landscape.
The wounds the terrorists inflicted are beginning to heal, the city is beginning to rebuild, but the tragedy of that clear September Tuesday in 2001 has not been forgotten.
"I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl on a date...and a hundred other things I can't even name," said Peter Negron, 21, whose father was killed in the attacks. Negron, who wants to become a forensic scientist, was barely able to keep his composure as he spoke.
"I hope I can make my father proud of the young men my brother and I have become. I miss you so much."
Mario Montoya, 58, of New Jersey, lost his best friend of 40 years, Harry Ramos, 46, a broker on the 82nd floor of the North Tower.
"We will never forget," he said. "Time passes by so fast. It's always going to be an empty hole in us. We miss him."
Family members and friends of those who died came from far and wide to remember their loved ones, cramming into the newly-opened memorial plaza.
"It's our way of honoring those who perished," said Edward J. Herrera, 70, who traveled from Bakersfield for his sister-in-law Betty Ann Ong, a flight attendant on Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower. "We've become a big American family."
So many family members of victims crammed into the ceremony site on West Street, just south of One World Trade Center, that some were forced into an overflow area that had obstructed views.
But city officials said that everyone was accommodated.
Some carried photos of their loved ones and embraced each other as they entered, wiping tears from their eyes.
"I've been coming every year and things have gotten so much better. The park is magnificent. The trees, the pools, it's beautiful," said retired NYPD Captain Anthony Ottomano, who lost his nephew, Michael Stabile, who worked at EuroTrader.
"I found his name and it brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I had a real connection."
Others posed, smiling, for family photos or took pictures on their cell phones of the rising One World Trade Center and the memorial trees at the site. Although the site is still ringed by a construction fence, it is dramatically transformed, even from last year.
The 7,500-square-foot memorial pools in the footprints of the fallen Twin Towers roared in the early morning sunlight surrounded by bronze parapets etched with the names of the victims illuminated from within. A worker gently wiped them down ahead of the ceremony.
Some 52,000 gallons-per-minute of water rush over the 30-foot waterfalls in each pool, which are comprised of nearly 4,000 panels of granite.
Family members of 9/11 victims wore blue ribbons, and some wore T-shirts bearing pictures of the faces of their loved ones, with the words "Never Forget" and "9/11/01."
"It's sad. But I've got to pay respect to my cousin," said John McArdle, 63, whose cousin, Mary Catherine Murphy-Boffa, 45, was on the 93rd floor of Tower 1 at the time of the attacks. "I'll be here every year that I'm alive to show my respect to her."
Brian Gillespie, 46, a retired New Jersey police officer and member of the Marines, was among the rescue workers who flocked to Ground Zero to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts after the attacks. He lost countless friends in the attack.
"I wanted to be here. I needed to be here," he said stoically as he stood with an American flag.
For the families, Sunday was the first time that they saw their loved ones' names etched in the memorial pools. Hundreds gathered around the pools to look at their family members' names, hugging, crying and consoling one another.
A tearful former Gov. George Pataki was overcome with emotion at the site of the memorial, which he was setting eyes on for the first time.
“I don’t even want to look at it. I’m trying not to let the emotion come yet. It will,” he said, having to turn away after looking at the pools.
“You know it achieved exactly what I had hoped we would achieve. The centerpiece had to be the memorial. This is exactly the right thing to let us reflect back and appreciate the heroes lost.”
Security was tight throughout the ceremony with the World Trade Center site a frozen zone. The streets of Lower Manhattan were lined with cop cars and there were cops on foot as well as several police barricades and helicopters.
The ceremony started with a procession of pipers and drummers from the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police Department around 8:30 a.m., many with flags dangling from their instruments.
Members of the honor guard unfurled the scarred American flag that flew at the Trade Center site on 9/11 as the Brooklyn Youth Chorus sang the national anthem.
At 8:46 a.m., a bell tolled a moment of silence was held to represent the moment that the first plane struck the North Tower.
That was one of six moments of silence in the ceremony, commemorating the time the that the second plane hit the South Tower, the times that both towers fell and the times that a plane struck the Pentagon and when United Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
President Barack Obama hugged a number of officials after arriving at the site around 8 a.m., pausing for a moment of silence at the memorial pools along with First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady.
Obama gave the first reading of the service, Psalm 46, which was followed by family members reading the names of those who died, punctuated by moments of silence.
Many of those who read the names choked up with emotion and read messages to their loved ones.
For the first time the list of names that was read include the 2,983 who died on 9/11 across the country as well as in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former NJ Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, were also on hand for the ceremony.
When President Bush took the stage to read a letter from Abraham Lincoln to a mother who lost her sons in the Civil War, a cheer went up from the crowd. Some applauded once again when he finished.
As the names were read, Laura Bush wiped tears from her eyes.
The program finished with "Taps" performed by four trumpeters from the NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and U.S. Military.
With pool reports.