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Tears, crowds flow as 9/11 memorial opens

At 10 a.m. yesterday morning, the National September 11 Memorial opened its doors to the public.

At 10 a.m. yesterday morning, the National September 11 Memorial opened its doors to the public.

Jelena Watkins, her husband, her parents and her two young children were the first guests to enter.

They were greeted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“It was a huge relief to see that it’s actually beautiful,” Watkins said to a pool reporter. “It’s the right feel. It’s just so right. It’s so spacious.”

This was Watkins’s second day visiting the memorial. She attended Sunday’s ceremony to honor her brother, Vladimir Tomasevic, who died 10 years ago in the attacks.

After Watkins, nearly 7,000 visitors had tickets for the memorial. Each was thoroughly screened by security after waiting for as long as 30 minutes.

Some reported they found the sound of the rushing water comforting, and others ran their hands across the bronze names of the victims.

Jim Brown, who lost his cousin in the attacks, said the memorial helped him find peace.

“I felt better now that I’ve seen their names and taken a rubbing,” he said to a pool reporter, referring to the pencil-and-paper rubbings over the names many family members made. “His spirit will always be here in this part of Manhattan.”

Others said that finally being able to view the tower’s “footprints” helped blot out a decade of visions of war, violence and the sight of people fleeing for their lives.

“When we walked in, those images were popping in my head from 10 years ago,” Las Vegas researcher Laura Pajar, 23, told a pool reporter. “But when I saw the memorial, all of that went away.”

Follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyatMetro.