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40 names removed from WTC death toll

NEW YORK -- Forty names included in the World Trade Center death toll for more than two years were removed yesterday because the city cannot confirm the people's deaths or -- in some cases -- their existence.

The list was cut from 2,792 to 2,752, a decision made by several city agencies, including the medical examiner's office, the police department, and the mayor's office.

Those removed include illegal immigrants whose jobs were not well documented and people whose relatives say were near ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, but know little more.

Thousands of names landed on the list in the chaos immediately after the attack, when worried callers swamped the city's "missing" hot lines to report a friend or relative they hadn't heard from.

Missing-person reports poured in from around the world, many from people who gave only sketchy information, partial phone numbers, misspelled names, and few details.

The city formed a group called the Reported Missing Committee, charged with weeding out fraud and crossing errors off the death list, which peaked at 6,700 two weeks after the attack.

As of early September 2003, police had made about 40 arrests related to people falsely claiming they lost loved ones, and law enforcement agencies in other cities have nabbed others.

In most cases, victims whose remains have not been identified have been legally declared dead by the court and their families issued death certificates based on documents or other proof they were at the trade center or on the hijacked airplanes.

For the names removed yesterday, no such proof was ever found and remains were never identified. About 60 percent of the victims have had remains identified.

The tally had stood at 2,792 since December 2002.

Days before the first anniversary of the attack, the city released its list of 2,801 names, which were read aloud by relatives and dignitaries. By that December, city officials removed nine of the names. One was a duplication, one was fabricated by a woman allegedly trying to defraud victims' charities, and seven had been wrongly reported missing.

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