Barack Obama has led an emotional dedication of a new museum to commemorate the traumatic events of 11 September, 2001.
The US president told a big crowd gathered there yesterday it was a “sacred place of healing and of hope”.
It has been built on the “Ground Zero” site of the Twin Towers that fell when al-Qaeda hijackers flew planes into the buildings.
Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, joined by former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, toured the museum, which includes artefacts from many of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Addressing an audience of victims’ relatives, survivors and rescuers, Mr Obama said: “Here we tell their story so that generations yet unborn will never forget this sacred place of healing and hope.
“It’s an honour to join in your memories, to recall and to reflect, but above all to reaffirm the true spirit of 9/11 – love, compassion, sacrifice – and to enshrine it forever in the heart of our nation.
“Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.”
The museum includes parts of the World Trade Centre towers themselves.
The president viewed some of the exhibits, including a mangled fire engine and a memorial wall with photos of the victims .
In his short speech, he recalled the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old World Trade Centre worker and former volunteer firefighter, who became known as “the man in the red bandana” after leading workers to safety before dying in the south tower’s collapse.
His bandana is in the museum, and his mother, Alison, told the audience she hoped it would remind visitors “how people helped each other that day, and that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small”.
The museum features dramatic and horrific moments of the day in videos, including the two skyscrapers collapsing, but also symbols of heroism, such as damaged fire tenders and the wristwatch of one of the plane passengers who confronted the hijackers.
At yesterday’s ceremony, retired fire department lieutenant Mickey Cross described being trapped for hours in the wreckage of the north tower – and joining the recovery effort after being rescued. “There was a real sense of caring for each other,” he said.
Ada Dolch, a school head whose sister died, recalled turning her grief into inspiration to open a school in Afghanistan. “What a kick in the head to Osama bin Laden!” she said.
Kayla Bergeron remembered walking down 68 flights of stairs in the north tower, amid confusion and fear that there was no way out. Her final steps to safety were on an outdoor stairway, now in the museum as the “survivors’ stairs”.
“Today, when I think about those stairs, what they represent to me is resiliency,” she said.
The museum, which also commemorates the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, is largely underground and sits next to the memorial plaza, which opened in 2011.
It will fully open to the public next Wednesday.