Thousands of unidentified remains of victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York were transferred in a solemn procession yesterday to Ground Zero, the World Trade Centre site that is now a memorial and museum.
The transfer drew protests from some families of victims who said it was an "insult" that remains possibly belonging to their loved ones were being put in an underground repository at the site of the 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
The transfer was carried out in a sombre procession of some 15 vehicles that left from the New York Medical Examiner's Office on Manhattan's East Side.
Vehicles from the New York Police Department, the Fire Department and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey formed the cortege. The remains were in metallic, rectangular cases.
"They were military transfer cases wrapped with the American flag. They were not coffins," a police spokesman said.
Relatives of victims awaited their arrival at the Memorial Museum.
Of the 2,753 people declared missing at the World Trade Centre site, 1,115 - or about 40 per cent of the total - have not been identified, according to the medical examiner's office.
Authorities recovered 21,906 human remains in the area, of which 7,930 could not be matched with DNA of relatives.
One group of loved ones at the site gathered to protest against the move, which the mayor's office said in a recent letter to families would be "conducted in a dignified and respectful manner".
"We are outraged. There is anger and anguish. It's an insult and a sacrilege," said Sally Regenhard, vice-president of a group of relatives of 9/11 victims whose firefighter son died in the collapse of the World Trade Centre's twin towers after hijacked jetliners smashed into them.
"The city has refused to survey the families of the victims to get their opinion because they know the majority is against this plan," she said.
Rosaleen Tallon, mourning her firefighter brother Sean, said that, identified or not, the remains were sacred "and putting them in a museum is so hard to explain to my children".
But Charles Wolf, who lost his wife Katherine, disagreed.
"This was done right, this is good … You can't do any more," he said.
"I was proud when I saw the caskets with the American flag."
The repository is 20 metres underground and the public will not have access to it. It will remain under the control of the New York Medical Examiner's Office.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum above it will open to the public on May 21 although authorities have set aside five days beforehand for families of the victims, World Trade Centre rescue and recovery workers and for survivors of the attack.
Despite being separated from the public viewing area, many still consider it part of the public space.
"The human remains repository is most certainly a part of the museum," Jim Riches, the chairman of the 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims group, said.
With some 10,220 square metres of exhibition space, the museum will recount what happened on 9/11 through multimedia displays, as well as archives, artifacts and narratives, according to its website.
Aside from the memorial and the museum, the rebuilt World Trade Centre includes five new skyscrapers, a subway stop, retail space and a performing arts centre.