NEW YORK (AP) – As if they were writing letters to a long-lost friend, the brothers and sisters of the Sept. 11 victims walked to the microphone, looked up to the sky and tearfully told their siblings what had happened in the world since they left it. They talked about babies born, children growing up, and how much the victims were still missed.

“If you were here, you’d be so proud, so proud of Gabe and Madeleine,” Francis Hoffman told his brother Stephen, a 36-year-old Cantor Fitzgerald bond broker.

“If it’s a boy in December, we’re taking your name,” said Nancy Brennan-Poulis, Peter Brennan’s brother.

The siblings were among more than 600 people who read the names of the 2,749 victims who died four years ago when hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center.

Tears sometimes swallowed their words as they read the names, and relatives in the crowd bowed their heads and sobbed as the siblings spoke.

“You’re still our hero. Please keep watching over us,” Elizabeth Ahearn said to her brother, Fire Lt. Brian Ahearn.

Several times, the brothers and sisters came in groups – sometimes six or seven large – to honor their loved one, all huddling together to say their name. Some blew kisses to the sunny, pale-blue sky, while others said over and over, “We love you. We miss you.”

“We know you’re keeping everyone laughing up in heaven,” said Kathleen Pslrogianes to her brother, Thomas Cahill, a Cantor Fitzgerald trader who was 36 when he died.

As the names of the dead were read, weeping mourners filed down a ramp to a reflecting memorial pool at the floor of the site, which remains virtually empty four years after the attack tore a hole in the New York skyline.

Families filled the water with red, orange and yellow roses, some shaking as they inscribed dedications on the wooden edge of the pool. The four-hour ceremony came as Hurricane Katrina left Americans once again struggling with a catastrophe that caught the nation unprepared and left thousands of citizens dead and grieving.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened with words of condolence for those devastated by Katrina and the terrorist bombings in the London Underground.

“To Americans suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our deepest sympathies go out to you this day,” Bloomberg said.

In New Orleans, New York firefighters helping with the relief effort gathered around a makeshift memorial for their fallen comrades, accepting the gift of a bell from a nearby church whose steeple was destroyed in the storm.

New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said at a ceremony in Brooklyn that his firefighters who have gone to the Gulf Coast are “doing what this department does best, and that is saving lives.”

“An entire city has been virtually destroyed … but four years later, we are in a position to respond with the same generosity of spirit which was shown to us,” he said.

In Shanksville, Pa., about 1,000 people attended a memorial service for the 40 passengers and crew who died when Flight 93 crashed into a field after those aboard struggled with the al-Qaida hijackers flying it toward Washington.

In Washington, President Bush marked the anniversary with his wife on the South Lawn, and throngs of people marched in remembrance of the attacks and in tribute to troops fighting overseas.

The ground zero ceremony paused for moments of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time at which a hijacked jetliner crashed into the north tower, at 9:03 a.m., the moment a second plane struck the south tower, at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower fell and at 10:29 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gov. George E. Pataki, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey all addressed the crowd.

“We all stand together to help each other and to help those who need our help in the future,” Giuliani said. “We remember forever all the brothers and sisters that we lost on that day.”

For several family members, their messages became political. Many prayed to succeed in efforts to provide a fitting memorial at the site, a reference to the battle over an international museum of freedom planned for ground zero. Some families say the museum would politicize the site and overshadow the memorial.

Parents and grandparents read the victims’ names at ground zero last year, while children’s voices were heard in 2003. A selection of politicians, relatives and others read the names on the first anniversary.

Two light beams inspired by the twin towers were to shoot skyward Sunday night in an echo of the towers’ silhouette. The “Tribute in Light” will fade away at dawn on Monday.

AP-ES-09-11-05 1641EDT

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