Thousands gather in New York for opening of World Trade Center deck

NEW YORK (AFP) - Thousands gathered on Friday to take in the New York skyline as the observation deck of the new World Trade Center - viewed by many as a symbol of the city's resilience - opened to the public.

The gleaming glass tower, constructed on the site where the Twin Towers stood before being destroyed in the September 11 attacks of 2001, is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere.

Following an early morning ribbon cutting, visitors thronged the observatory, which offers spectacular views of the city from the tower's 100th, 101st and 102nd floors.

Operators expect between three and four million visitors a year, who will be able to take in the 360-degree panorama from a dizzying 380m.

The World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, welcomed its first tenants last year, but the general public was only allowed its first in-person glimpse following the ribbon cutting.

The observatory affords stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and neighbouring New Jersey.

On a clear day, visitors are able to see for 80km.

Floor-to-ceiling LED technology provides visitors with a virtual time-lapse that recreates the development of the city's skyline from the 1600s to present day.

- 'Historic day' -

Outside the entrance, in the late morning, US Army veteran Michael Lanza posed for a photo with a large American flag.

"This is a sign of American resiliency, that no matter what evil storms on us, we will always come back, we will always be victorious," the 32-year-old said.

"It is important because I am a veteran. I served in the Army for three years, I love my country," he added.

One of the first visitors to descend from the observation deck, Mr Jim Vermeer, said the views were "majestic". "They don't want to dwell on the past, they want to dwell on the future and American perseverance," said the Iowa native, who was in New York celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary.

Ms Suzanne Goldstein of California, who said she comes to New York twice a year, was also there for opening day, having watched the new structure "being built from the very beginning". At the entrance to the observatory, visitors passed through tough security measures similar to those at airports.

The observatory will be open seven days a week, with a basic admission price of US$32 (S$42) for adults.