Victims' relatives gather 14 years after September 11 attacks

Firefighters carry an American flag that once flew at the World Trade Center during memorial observances at the National September 11 Memorial on the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, New York, USA, on Sept 11, 2015.
Firefighters carry an American flag that once flew at the World Trade Center during memorial observances at the National September 11 Memorial on the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, New York, USA, on Sept 11, 2015.PHOTO: EPA
Members of the Red White and Blue team walk through the 9/11 Empty Sky memorial after posing for a picture at sunrise across from New York's Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center, in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Sept 11, 201
Members of the Red White and Blue team walk through the 9/11 Empty Sky memorial after posing for a picture at sunrise across from New York's Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center, in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS
A man jogs past a row of American flags that have been lowered to half staff on the Washington Monument grounds, near the US Capitol on Sept 11, 2015 in Washington, DC.
A man jogs past a row of American flags that have been lowered to half staff on the Washington Monument grounds, near the US Capitol on Sept 11, 2015 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An overcast Friday greeted relatives who gathered to commemorate nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington 14 years ago, when airliners hijacked by al Qaeda militants brought death, mayhem and destruction.

In New York, relatives of the victims read their names in a solemn and poignantly familiar pattern. Emblematic of the generations affected, children who were not old enough to remember their late relatives or had yet to meet them participated in the roll call.

They stood at the empty footprint of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, toppled by two hijacked airliners on that clear, sunny morning in 2001.

"We come here every year. We live in New Jersey. The crowds keep getting less, but my wife and I, as long as we're breathing, we'll be here," said Tom Acquaviva, who with his wife Josephine, lost their son Paul when the towers fell. "No remains were ever found, so basically this is his cemetery," he said, adding: "Couldn't ask for a better son."

Hijackers crashed two other commercial jets into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The New York ceremony, where politicians past and present mixed with families but gave no speeches, was punctuated by moments of silence to mark the times when each of the four planes crashed and the towers fell.

In Washington, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, joined by staff, bowed their heads for a brief moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House to mark the anniversary. Obama will later hold a town hall-style meeting with military service members at Fort Meade, an army base in Maryland.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter led a remembrance ceremony for relatives of those killed at the Pentagon.

Relatives of the 40 passengers and crew members who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 gathered at the newly dedicated Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.

The passengers are believed to have fought back against the hijackers, who crashed the plane upside down at nearly 600 mph (965 kph).

In New York, the buzz of increased commerce from new residential and business towers has returned a large degree of normalcy to the area, known after the attacks as Ground Zero.

The day also honors those who were killed in 1993, when a car bomb tore through one of the parking garage of one of the towers.

Next to the 16-acre site where the Twin Towers stood is the newly opened 1 World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western hemisphere.

The first plane slammed into the North tower at 8.46 a.m., followed by a second plane hitting the South tower at 9.03 a.m. Within two hours, both towers had collapsed, engulfing lower Manhattan in acrid dust and smoke and debris that burned for days.