NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – A Navy assault ship built with tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center towers began its journey to New York on Tuesday, sailing down the Mississippi River in a pea-soup fog as watchers along the levee strained for a glimpse.
The USS New York, named to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, left the Northrop Grumman shipyard where it was built for the trip to its namesake city. The $1 billion ship will be formally commissioned in New York in early November.
The New York is 684 feet long and can carry up to 800 Marines. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Four tugboats performed an intricate set of maneuvers to pull the warship from the dock at the New Orleans-area shipyard and turn it 180 degrees toward the waters of Gulf of Mexico. An armed Coast Guard speedboat and a helicopter flying overhead guarded the vessel. The ship will sail through the Gulf and around Florida before turning north and continuing to New York.
Deputy project manager Doug Lounsberry said the vessel was important to the builders, not only because it honors those killed in the terrorist attacks, but because workers were hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 during the early phases of construction.
"It's like raising a kid," Lounsberry said. "We're sending this one off to college. But after they leave, they remain near and dear to your heart."
Farther down the Mississippi, hundreds of people lined up along the river bank to watch the ship pass. Around 9:45 a.m., a man called "Here she comes!" prompting well-wishers to raise U.S. flags and camera phones, as the hulking warship emerged from the haze.
Tourists Dorice and Victor Brown and Christine Cox, of Sterling, Va., were getting coffee and pastries at a nearby cafe when they asked about the commotion and decided to check it out for themselves.
"It's awesome for anything so tragic to be so uplifting here," Cox said, just after the ship had passed.
Brian Corcoran, a mechanical contractor, brought his four children, who range in age from 12 to 5. He figured they might be a bit late for school but was OK with that, given the importance of the occasion.
"Hopefully, it's going overseas to do damage to them like it did to us," he said.
When terrorist hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, destroying the twin towers and killing nearly 2,800 people, the ship was already on the drawing board. In September 2002, the Defense Department announced the selection of New York as the ship's name, honoring the city and state and those who died in the attacks.
About 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel was melted at the Bradken Inc. foundry in Amite, La., and used in the New York's bow.
The New York revives a name held by at least four other Navy ships, including a Spanish-American War-era cruiser, a battleship that served in World Wars I and II and a nuclear submarine retired from the fleet in 1997.
The ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock vessel. The first four ships in the series -- the USS San Antonio, USS New Orleans, USS Mesa Verde and USS Green Bay -- are in service. Four other ships in the class ate under construction: Somerset and Anchorage at the Avondale yard, and Arlington and San Diego at Northrop Grumman's yard in Pascagoula, Miss.
Arlington and Somerset also carry names connected to the Sept. 11 attacks: Arlington for the attack on the Pentagon and Somerset for the Pennsylvania county in which United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after being hijacked.