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Congressional, world leaders tour Trade Center ruins

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, right, greets fellow senators at Penn Station.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, right, greets fellow senators at Penn Station.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- One of the largest delegations of U.S. senators ever to travel together was in New York on Thursday to tour the wreckage of the World Trade Center and console the families of the victims.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had repeatedly urged lawmakers to visit the site in order to understand the scope of the disaster and what help will be needed for recovery.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the 38 lawmakers traveled by train to Manhattan's Penn Station, arriving amid a heavy police presence.

"We are here in complete unity with our New York and New Jersey friends," Daschle said. "We support you, and we're here to continue to provide that support whatever it may mean. That support will be here for whatever length of time it takes."

A memorial concert in New York gave musicians the chance to make their own contribution to the recovery effort. CNN's Beth Nissen reports (September 20)

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The state's senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, were already in New York. A boat was to take the senators to the Lower Manhattan disaster site, where they planned to talk with relief workers and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

"I think it's important that they actually see it, because the pictures don't convey the real sense of horror," New York Gov. George Pataki told CNN.

Blairs pay tribute

Also in town Thursday was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who hailed a "surging of the human spirit" around the world and a strengthening of the bonds between Britons and Americans after last week's suicide attacks.

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Blair, in New York as part of a tour of Europe and the United States to rally support for a world alliance against terrorism, told a memorial service dedicated to British victims of the attacks, that -- amid the fear and anger -- there was also courage.

"There are no words that can truly comfort those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones today," Blair told a congregation of 1,500 people at St. Thomas's church in Manhattan.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan were in the congregation among relatives of those lost and presumed dead in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

"Amid the enormity of what has happened to America, nobody will forget that this was the worst terrorist attack on British citizens in my country's history," Blair said. "The bonds between our countries, for so long so strong, are even stronger now."

Heavy traffic meant that Blair was unable to visit rescue workers at the site of the collapsed towers. His wife, Cherie, was expected to visit a fire station after the service. The fire house -- Engine Company 8 and Ladder Company 2 -- lost eight firefighters in the twin tower attacks.

Blair's visit follows one by French President Jacques Chirac Wednesday, during which Chirac commended New York's public safety officials.

Visit from a boxing legend

Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali toured the World Trade Center ruins on Thursday, boosting the morale of weary rescue workers. Afterwards, Ali said his reaction when he first saw the crash on television was similar to that of most others.

"I didn't think it was something that happened in real life. I thought it was a movie," he said. "I couldn't understand how people could take a plane and run it into a building.''

Asked about how he felt about the suspected hijackers sharing his Islamic faith, Ali responded, "Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams -- they all have different names, but they all contain water. So religions all have different names, but they all contain the same truths.

"I think the people of our religion should be tolerant and understand people believe different things. It's a shame that this (tolerance) didn't happen before.''

'We have to proceed very carefully'

The confirmed death toll in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center stands at 233, with 170 of those victims identified. Another 6,333 people remain missing and presumed dead.

"We're obviously extremely disappointed that we haven't been able to recover anyone alive," Giuliani told ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday, eight days after the last survivor was pulled from the rubble.

He added, "We're always going to be looking."

The mayor estimated at least 180 days of "very intense cleanup" remained to be done. Already, workers have removed 60,000 tons of structure and debris, he said.

Giuliani joined Nasdaq Chairman Frank Zarb for the market's opening amid a continued Wall Street sell-off in the wake of last week's attacks.

At the disaster site, Giuliani said, workers were proceeding carefully to ensure the giant sea wall surrounding the underground levels of the World Trade Center complex was not in danger of flooding.

Some engineers have theorized that removing too much debris from the basement would compromise the wall's support and allow water from the Hudson River to rush in.

The mayor said engineers had tested the wall from outside, and that it appeared structurally sound.

"But we don't know what it looks like from the inside, and that's the concern," the mayor said. "We have to proceed very, very carefully."

Larry Hawthorne with the Army Corps of Engineers discounted reports of flooding in the seven-story basement. He said structural engineers had told workers at the site to be careful where they placed their cranes and heavy equipment, so as not to threaten the wall's supports.

"We were pointing out different potential problem areas," he said. "They may want to be careful of that and make sure the supports are not in that area. I believe they have taken heed of that."

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