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More people visit U.S.'s Sept. 11 museum than expected -officials

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of visitors to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York since it opened last month has exceeded expectations as thousands more people flock to the site, museum officials said on Wednesday.

More than 300,000 people have visited the museum since May 15, about 15,000 more than the 285,000 projected visitors, officials said, citing a 5 percent increase.

The museum is the culmination of eight years' work designing exhibits, collecting artifacts and settling disputes over how best to document the day in 2001 when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Museum officials said they hope to draw 1.5 million visitors this year and 2.5 million visitors for the museum's first 12 months. The museum is located underground at the site in downtown Manhattan where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood.

Among the museum's exhibits are twisted metal columns from the two towers and a fire engine badly battered in their collapse, along with smaller, more personal items such as bloody shoes and twisted eyeglasses from the rubble.

It utilizes audio such as telephone messages left to loved ones from those who later died in the towers as well as cockpit recordings from the doomed planes.

More than half of the $700 million needed to build the museum and memorial was raised privately, and about $250 million came from federal disaster funding.

Early statistics show more museumgoers are from New York than from any other state, followed by California and New Jersey, officials said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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