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First families begin filing death certificates

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The families of those missing in the World Trade Center attacks began the depressing task Wednesday of filing to get death certificates for loved ones whose bodies may never be found.

About 500 lawyers working free of charge were at the city's Family Assistance Center and other locations to help family members fill out the necessary paperwork, which involved proving identity and showing that their missing loved one was at the World Trade Center complex on September 11.

In most cases, New York state law requires the family of a missing person to wait three years to obtain a death certificate. But the city is making an exception for victims of the terrorist attacks, allowing them to secure the certificate "within days."

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith travels from Harlem's 125th Street down Fifth Avenue to ground zero (September 26)

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"So many people have said in this worst of times, there have been so many things that brought out the best in people," said New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

After the legal papers are filed in court -- with all fees waived -- judges will review them.

Officials told CNN they expected as many as 600 families to show up at the center Wednesday.

New York Police Chief Joseph Esposito said Wednesday that 6,347 people remain missing from the attacks. He said 300 bodies have been recovered, 232 of which have been identified.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said 115,756 tons of steel, concrete and glass have been removed from the site so far, out of an estimated 1.2 million tons of debris left on the ground after the attacks.

Two more streets near the World Trade Center complex were scheduled to be opened Thursday morning for the first time since the attacks, Esposito said.

The mayor said subway traffic and other forms of public transportation were "almost back to normal," but street traffic remained a mess as more commuters returned to work and some entrances to the city, like the Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, remained closed.

Police were also conducting truck inspections at the East River crossings.

Because of the resulting gridlock, city officials are ordering that all passenger vehicles entering Manhattan below 62nd Street carry more than one person. The carpool order will be in effect 6 a.m. to noon every day until further notice.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday hosted Italy's foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, who was fresh from his meeting in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ruggiero expressed his country's solidarity with New York and the United States.

He also announced a $500,000 gift from the mayor of Bari, Italy, to go toward the reconstruction of St. Nicholas Church, a modest 170-year-old building that had stood next to the World Trade Center and was destroyed when the towers fell.

There was little mention of politics a day after the city's mayoral primary, in which Republican businessman Michael Bloomberg clinched his party's nomination. Democratic hopefuls Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer failed to win a majority Tuesday, sending them to the runoff scheduled for October 11.

Giuliani, who teased the electorate by refusing to rule out his own candidacy in the general election, went about his business at his Wednesday morning news briefing. But where Giuliani shoved politics aside, Ruggiero brought it up, telling reporters the mayor should just cross the Atlantic.

"He is no longer just very popular in New York -- he's very popular in Italy, too," he said. "If he wants to win an election, he just has to come to Rome and he will win an election immediately in Italy."

Giuliani is barred by law from serving a third consecutive term as mayor.

His popularity has soared in the wake of the attacks, however, leading many to speculate that he might look for a way to run anyway.


• New York City

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