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Bush tours ground zero in lower Manhattan

Bush talks with Sen. Schumer, Gov. Pataki and rescue workers in front of the World Trade Center rubble.  

By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush arrived on the southern tip of Manhattan on Friday afternoon to see for himself the almost unimaginable devastation meted out upon New York's financial district, when two 767 jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center's landmark twin towers during Tuesday's morning rush.

There, he was greeted by a raucous crowd of construction workers and rescue personnel, all of whom seemed recharged by the president's visit after more than three days of backbreaking work, removing chunks of concrete and mangled steel, and looking for survivors.

Grabbing a bullhorn, Bush told the chanting, cheering crowd, "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon."

"The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who's here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud, and may God bless America," Bush added, raising his arm.

The workers responded with an resounding, energetic chant of "USA, USA!"

The president, wearing a windbreaker, took a helicopter tour of the city's afflicted area, surveying some 10 square blocks of destruction. He was greeted earlier at New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base by New York Gov. George Pataki and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who accompanied him on the subsequent helicopter.

A 37-member delegation from Congress followed along in a series of Marine helicopters.

When the chopper convoy touched down in Manhattan, a lengthy presidential convoy snaked its way to ground zero, the area of the city covered with the remains of the trade center's 110-story north and south towers as well as rubble and debris from buildings that subsequently collapsed.

Bush offered a thumbs-up to fire and rescue personnel, shook hands and offered his thanks for their work.

Earlier, the president declared a national state of emergency, signing documents authorizing the Pentagon to call up thousands of reservists.

The New York visit was only the latest event on a day in which the president sought to maintain a high profile, leading the United States in national day of mourning.

Late in the morning, Bush enjoined mourners at Friday's National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service in Washington to remember and honor the thousands slain in Tuesday's unprecedented terror attacks in New York and Washington, and said the United States has been called to a new worldwide mission -- to "rid the world of evil."

"Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not have the distance of history, but our responsibility to history is clear," Bush said, his words echoing through the cavernous granite structure of the Washington National Cathedral. That responsibility, Bush said, is "to answer these attacks, and rid the world of evil."

The president mixed words of comfort and encouragement with ominous passages intended to portray the United States as ready and willing to enter a long campaign against the forces of international terrorism.

"This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others," he said. "It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."

He added later, "Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time, But goodness, remembrance and love have no end. The Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn."

Speaking of the victims, the president said: "Now come the names, the lists of casualties we are only beginning to read of people who began their days at a desk or an airport, busy with life.

"They are the names of passengers who defied their murderers and prevented the murder of others of the ground," he said. "They are the names of men and women who wore the uniform of the United States and died at their posts. They are the names of rescuers whom death found running up the stairs to rescue others.

"We offer the deepest sympathies of the nation, and I assure you, you are not alone," the president said to the victims' families and loved ones.

"In this trial we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We are freedom's home and defender. The commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time."

Bush arrived at the National Cathedral as a gloomy canopy of gray rain clouds gave way at noon to bright sunshine.

Former Presidents Clinton, Carter and Ford, as well as former Vice President Al Gore, joined Bush at the national prayer service to honor the thousands of victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Gore -- Bush's bitter rival for the presidency -- flew back from a meeting in Austria on Thursday at the behest of the president.

Former President George Bush, the current president's father, was also in attendance as was the president's mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, and his wife, Laura, who walked up the center of the cathedral's main aisle, her hand locked tightly into the president's, moments before the service opened.

The capital city's sprawling cathedral, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, was filled with members of Congress, the Bush Cabinet, and a host of dignitaries and officials from all over the nation and the world.

Vice President Dick Cheney did not attend the service, the White House said Friday. Cheney was moved Thursday from the White House to the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland as a security precaution.

The Rev. Billy Graham, delivering remarks and prayers, said the incidents of terror experienced by the United States showed Americans needed each other and needed God.

"Today, we come together to confess our need of God. Those perpetrators who took us on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way. It has backfired; it has brought us together," Graham said.

"September 11 will go down in our history as a day to remember," he added. "The spirit of this nation will not be defeated by twisted and diabolical schemes."

Bush was the only political figure to deliver remarks.

Representatives from other religious denominations also read passages from scripture and offered prayers for unity, strength, justice and wisdom.

The Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of the National Cathedral, prayed that the United States seek justice with an even, steady hand. "We ask for wisdom from the grace of God that we not become the evil we deplore," he said.

Imam Muzammil H. Siddiqi also spoke, saying: "Repel the evil with the good. Give us comfort. Help us in our distress."

A collection was taken up at the service. All proceeds were to be distributed to charitable organizations, and for cleanup efforts in New York and Arlington, Virginia.

Bush declared Friday a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. He asked Americans to attend religious services of their choosing to pray for the victims of the terror attacks and also for the thousands involved in recovery efforts.

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