By Jennifer Peltz
NEW YORK — Volunteers and Sept. 11 victims' relatives will read the names of the lost together at this year's commemoration, and the families will again be able to pay respects at ground zero even though the site is under construction, officials said Tuesday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson announced that public service would be the theme of the city ceremony marking the terrorist attacks' eighth anniversary.
As it was last year, the remembrance will be in a public plaza next to the 16-acre World Trade Center site. The site itself is now taken over with construction.
But relatives of the more than 2,750 people killed when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the trade center's twin towers will be allowed to visit the site, officials said.
Many of the family members profoundly value being able to pay tribute to their loved ones in the place where they were killed. But access has become an issue as rebuilding progressed.
In previous years, relatives went down a ramp into the pit where the towers had stood. But the ramp was removed last winter to make way for construction of the steel foundation for a Sept. 11 memorial. Two office towers and a massive transit hub are also are being built.
This September, families will be allowed into a newly built upper level of the memorial site, the mayor and governor said.
"We totally understand that there would be no way to go down ourselves. But it would be nice to do something to symbolically connect us to the site," said Rosaleen Tallon, sister of firefighter Sean Tallon, who was killed when the north tower collapsed.
She said the families are considering tossing flowers into the pit.
Congress recently designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, a move the ceremony will reflect by pairing volunteers with victims' relatives to read the names of those lost. Family members, public officials and emergency service workers have had the honor in prior years.
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As is now traditional, the ceremony will pause for moments of silence at the times when the planes hit the towers and when the buildings collapsed, and two bright blue light beams will shine throughout the night to symbolize the fallen towers.