NEW YORK – A staircase that served as an escape route for thousands of survivors of the World Trade Center attack and became an icon as it remained standing amid the rubble was hoisted onto a truck Sunday and moved to a temporary home.
After the wreckage of the twin 110-story towers was removed, the stairway — 37 steps that once connected an exterior plaza to the street below — was the only aboveground remnant of the complex.
Preservationists and survivors of the attack have been battling to leave it in place to honor the memory of the victims of the attack, while others said it stood in the way of redevelopment.
On Sunday, the so-called survivors' staircase was placed on a flatbed truck and moved 200 feet to a spot near the northwest corner of the trade center site. It will be a featured attraction of the World Trade Center memorial and museum due to open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"In many senses we're all survivors of 9/11 — this city, this country," said Joe Daniels, president of the foundation that is building the memorial. "And the staircase is a really potent symbol of that."
State officials had announced in 2006 that all but one or two slabs of the staircase would be demolished to make way for a new office tower being built on the site.
After protests, officials in Gov. Eliot Spitzer's administration worked out the compromise last year to move the staircase.
On Sunday, Sept. 11 survivors and representatives of the site's owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and of the memorial foundation and other organizations watched as workers planted an American flag on the staircase and then hoisted it with a 500-ton hydraulic crane.
Tom Canavan remembered using the stairs to escape after tunneling out of debris that buried him when the World Trade Center's south tower collapsed.
"Time seemed to move very fast," Canavan said. "It took me about 20 minutes to tunnel out, just digging. I had no fingernails left when I got to the top."
Avi Schick, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency in charge of redeveloping the site, said moving the stairs was a good compromise.
"You can honor memory, you can honor the day, you can honor survival yet respect and understand the need for rebuilding to go forward," he said.