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Families can file death certificates for missing

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the city will help file death certificates because "realities are realities."  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the city is making arrangements for families of the missing to file death certificates before their loved ones' bodies are recovered.

Pro bono attorneys will help the family members compile data to prove their relation and that their relative was in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

"If you know that your husband or father or relative was working there, and you've come to terms with the idea that they're dead and they're not going to be recovered, then you can make the choice -- and it's your choice -- to apply for the death certificate," Mayor Rudy Giuliani said.

CNN's Beth Nissen reports that dust and debris from the attacks present a challenge for cleanup crews in Lower Manhattan (September 25)

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Some 6,398 people are missing from the attacks, Giuliani said Tuesday. The number declined slightly as city officials examined the list of names and discovered duplicates.

Workers have recovered the bodies of 279 people, 209 of which have been identified, Giuliani said.

Meanwhile, the search effort at the disaster site is measured more in debris than the number of people found alive.

"We're losing time. Time is working against us," said Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "I think we all pray and hope for a miracle, but this morning we're about to mark two weeks, and it's highly unlikely we're going to find anyone alive."

Though emergency crews are still conducting a "rescue" operation, the mayor said that "realities are just realities."

"I know that this is a very painful and difficult process," Giuliani said. "We just have to begin this process, and we thought the best way to do it is to just leave it up to the families."

Concern about sea wall

Engineers remain concerned about the structural stability of a sea wall surrounding the basement floors of the World Trade Center complex, but tests so far have shown it to be intact.

"Engineers are on-site 24 hours a day, watching just that," said Richard Sheirer, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management. "At this time it's stable. We're going to continue to watch that to make sure."

The sea wall acts as a "bathtub" to keep water from the Hudson River out of the seven-story underground complex. Engineers have speculated that with the collapse of the interior structure, the force of the water could cause the sea wall to fall inward.

FEMA said Monday that 101,164 tons of debris have been removed from the disaster site. About 1.2 million more tons remain.

"That's going to take awhile, I know," Allbaugh said. "City engineers as well as the [Army] Corps of Engineers are working right now to dredge out an area around Pier 6 so we can bring in barges and help facilitate the removal of the debris. But it's going to take months."

Threats to rescuers

The site is dangerous for those whose job it is to dig beneath the rubble for victims and evidence, he said. Though testing for hazardous materials has not turned up any threat, pockets of carbon monoxide down below force the emergency workers back up to the surface.

"They can only spend about 20 or 30 minutes before they run into pockets of carbon monoxide," Allbaugh said. "It takes such a toll they have to come out and rest for about an hour."

More than 1,400 people have been injured at the site in the last two weeks, Allbaugh said.

"It is really tough," Allbaugh said. "The building was made of steel and concrete. The steel is just twisted like pretzels; the concrete is just basically disintegrated."

The threat of injury exists not just inside the rubble, with its sharp edges and instability; the entire site is a danger zone. On Monday, Allbaugh said, a rescue worker suffered a gash in his back when a large piece of glass fell from a nearby building.

Repeating his plea to New Yorkers to venture outside and enjoy themselves without fear, Giuliani announced the city has had a sharp drop in crime in the two weeks following the attacks.

"Last week, crime in New York City was the lowest in 40 years," he said. "This week, we have an 18 percent reduction over last year at this time."

As an example, he said, the city had four homicides last week. "Seven or eight years ago, we would have four homicides in an day," Giuliani said.

"That incident," he said, referring to the terrorist attacks, "was a once-in-our-history incident. Day in and day out, this is the safest city in America."


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