The number of confirmed dead at the World Trade Center rose again Monday as the mayor said the city would help families apply for death certificates before their loved ones are found.

With 6,453 people listed as missing or dead, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the number of confirmed dead had risen by 15 people to 276.

The mayor said that lawyers at a center in Manhattan will provide free assistance by Wednesday in preparing paperwork for families to have loved ones declared legally dead.

"The family center will be organized so that it can do that for large numbers of people," he said.

Gov. George Pataki signed an executive order Monday that will allow relatives of World Trade Center attack victims to get death certificates within days instead of years. A certificate is needed to make insurance claims, disburse estates, gain access to bank accounts and even start the burial process.

Before the order, a state Bar Association official said it could take up to three years to obtain a death certificate for a person presumed dead.

Pataki said insurance companies in New York will accept uniform affidavits in place of death certificates. The state Workers Compensation Board will also suspend its practice of requiring death certificates for families seeking benefits.

The order removes filing fees for families handling the estates or financial affairs of victims. Families will also be able to avoid purchasing newspaper legal notices, as usually required, and will be able to file proceedings in any county, rather than in the victim's home county.

Meanwhile, search crews kept up their nonstop search for victims and the flight recorders from the two hijacked airliners. Rescue workers have not found a survivor since the day after the attacks.

"It's still a nightmare down there," Chris Durso, 23, said as he laid telephone lines. "It's definitely worse in person than on TV."

Search crews Sunday found a major part of one of the planes that hit the towers Sept. 11. A 10-foot piece of fuselage was loaded onto a golf cart and taken away by federal investigators.

The possibility that Giuliani, who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term this fall, may try to extend his stay in office was cheered by some of the weary searchers.

"He should just stay for another term, period," said Del Mossobir, 26, a volunteer from Queens. "He knows how to handle situations very well."

The mayor said Monday that he hasn't decided on his political future.

The work went on as Wall Street employees and others arrived at work in the financial district. Lawyer Jonathan Rapport arrived from Staten Island in a pair of shorts. His office is without air conditioning.

"Well, you gotta get on, right?" said Rapport, 28.

The mayor said he confident the city's economy is recovering.

"It's not going to happen by magic, and it's not gonna happen all at once," he said. Still, he said, several Broadway shows saw increased attendance over the weekend and commuter service around the city was largely back to normal.

More residents of lower Manhattan were allowed to return home Sunday and relief agencies encouraged them to ask for government help. More than 8,000 people have applied for aid, said Mike Byrne of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hunter Carter lives in one of the apartment buildings in Battery Park City that is still closed due to a lack of electricity. He said he used to adore his apartment, the view of Ellis Island and walking along the Hudson River.

But now there are police officers and military personnel everywhere, and he wants to break his lease and move to a new place.

"This is nothing like the neighborhood I loved," Carter said. "It is just so sad around here."