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Tourists Flock to Trade Center Site After Midnight for a Better View

Each night, after the clock strikes 12, they come to gawk at the collapsed World Trade Center towers.

Using darkness as a shield, dozens of camera-laden New York City tourists gather at the site where the Twin Towers once stood just for an in-person glimpse of what they've seen time and time again on TV. Some have traveled miles and miles to get to the site.

They stare at the wreckage, flabbergasted at the magnitude of the devastation and unable to look away. They snap photographs. They speak in hushed tones, if they speak at all.

Gregory Alan Dennis, a trucking company owner, drove four hours from Fayetteville, Pa., arriving at the site just after 3 a.m. Thursday.

While most of the city was asleep, Dennis and his girlfriend, Erin Wiley, searched for some of the ash and documents scattered amid the debris.

"It's for when the kids grow up," Wiley said, holding a canister. "When they want to do reports, they can take it to school."

The public may now walk on Broadway in lower Manhattan and look west to see the mountain of ash and rubble from the Sept. 11 collapses of the 110-story towers. Thousands of people are still missing and presumed dead.

Since the area opened up about a week ago, the atmosphere has changed. The air is no longer thick with ash and dust; the masks that protected workers are mostly gone. The heavy foot traffic from hundreds of uniformed crews and volunteers working around the clock has tapered.

People from all over are walking around in the area in the early morning hour at a pace reserved for summer evening strolls. It's unclear whether the recent ban on picture-taking at the site and the crackdown on gawkers will apply to or deter the after-midnight set of visitors.

John Matthews, 49, from Laytonsville, Md., stood at Broadway and Maiden Lane just after 4 a.m. with his wife, two teenage sons and three co-workers. He says he made the five-hour trip in his motor home to avoid the crowds. The visit, he said, would be "good for the kids."

"I guess I have a fascination with these man-made structures," Matthews said. "TV just doesn't do it justice."

Matthews' wife and some other out-of-state tourists were afraid to document their trips. City officials have said cameras could be confiscated and warned of prosecution if photos are taken within the World Trade Center's restricted area.

Just after 1 a.m., businessman Alex Williams, 25, of Omaha, Neb., had taken two snapshots with a camera he had handy for an earlier Yankees game.

"If I was at Pearl Harbor I would take as many photos as I could," he said. "That's just what you do."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.