Trade Center Cleanup to End in Two Weeks

Filed at 5:59 p.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- The grueling cleanup and search for remains at the World Trade Center site will end with a solemn ceremony on May 30 for workers and victims' relatives, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday.

``This is a symbolic end of the process and a way of saying thank you to those who have worked so hard and taken such risks,'' he said.

The last heap of Sept. 11 debris is expected to be hauled away by then.

The job will have been completed three months faster than city officials had predicted -- in part because of the extraordinarily mild winter -- at a cost of about $750 million, or one-tenth the initial estimate of $7 billion.

Thousands of people have worked for more than eight months in a practically nonstop effort to find victims' remains and remove the 1.8 million tons of rubble.

The May 30 ceremony is set for 10:29 a.m. -- the moment the second of the twin towers fell -- and will be held at the seven-story crater where the skyscrapers once stood.

The service, which is expected to draw thousands of victims' relatives and rescue workers, will include the ceremonial removal of a 30-foot steel column that was part of the south tower. It is the last piece of steel still standing.

During the ceremony, a flag-draped stretcher will be carried from the site, symbolizing the human remains that were not recovered.

``We have an obligation to those left behind and to everybody else to make sure that the terrorists know that they did not win,'' Bloomberg said.

More than 2,800 people died in the attack. More than 1,000 victims have been identified, about 300 through DNA alone, and nearly 19,500 body parts have been recovered. But no remains other than small bones have been found in recent weeks.

Some victims' relatives have expressed concern that setting an end date would put the priority on finishing, rather than finding remains.

``Let me remind you that the recovery effort will not finish on May 30,'' Bloomberg said, noting that debris removed from the site will continue to be examined at a Staten Island landfill.

The backbreaking task began as a hand-and-bucket search for survivors in the hours after two hijacked jetliners brought down the twin towers. The last survivor was rescued from the smoking, 10-story rubble pile on Sept. 12. As days turned to weeks, the work shifted to the recovery of human remains, and contractors and heavy equipment were brought in.