NEW YORK – Two weeks after the World Trade Center attack, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared the city safer than ever Tuesday and urged New Yorkers to resume their lives without fear.
"Life is risky," the mayor said. "You can decide to live your life afraid of that happening, or you can decide to live your life the way Americans live their lives, which is unafraid. There's no reason to have this increased fear."
His comments came as voters chose nominees to succeed the Republican mayor, who has won praise for his handling of the tragedy. He is barred from seeking a third term when his term expires Dec. 31.
"If I had a chance, I would have voted for Giuliani again," said Elizabeth Dreier, an elementary school principal who went to the polls. "He's shown leadership, poise and conviction through the crisis."
The mayor touted New York's safety as he cited statistics that showed violent crime had declined since the Sept. 11 attack, which he called "a once-in-our-history incident."
"This remains not only the safest large city in America, it's become even safer," he said.
The number of confirmed dead at the trade center rose Tuesday to 279. The number of missing dropped by 55, to 6,398, and Giuliani said the numbers were likely to change because of duplications and additions in various missing-persons lists.
Of the confirmed dead, 209 had been identified. Only five survivors have been found -- none since the day after the Sept. 11 attack.
Over the past two weeks, Giuliani has refused to dash all hope that anyone survived in the rubble but acknowledged the chances are getting smaller. He said finding a survivor would be a "miracle."
"The Fire Department is still conducting this as a rescue operation, but the realities are just the realities," Giuliani said.
City officials said they would be ready Wednesday to begin helping relatives of the dead or missing apply for death certificates. The move will make it easier for families to collect death benefits and have access to bank accounts without having to produce a body.
"We need to pay rent and for baby formula and lots of credit card bills," said Cindy Gomes, 33, of New York, who lost her banker husband in the attack.
With her daughter, McKenzie, in a stroller beside her, Gomes said: "Our life was normal before, but now it's all on me. I work part time, but I can't work that much with a 6-month-old baby."
Residents and businesses in Manhattan's financial district are still trying to resume daily routines, despite the rumbling trucks and streets clogged with emergency personnel.
Two waiters from Salaam Bombay tried to attract customers Monday night. The Indian restaurant is inside the security perimeter set up around the debris, and customers have to be escorted past the barrier.
"It's not only our business, not only this business. This area and near the World Trade Center, every business is slow," said Morshedar Rahman Ashik Morshed, adding that a lunch buffet that normally attracts 200 customers is serving less than 50 now.
Separately, phone company Verizon said it has reconnected two-thirds of the voice lines in lower Manhattan that were cut in the attacks, but 100,000 remain without service.