As deadline nears, applications to 9/11 victim compensation fund soar to more than 32,000

With just a few days to go until a key deadline, more than 32,000 people have applied to the federal compensation fund for people with illnesses that might be related to toxic fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Congress has authorized paying up to $2.78 billion to people exposed to the tons of thick dust that fell on Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed.

The number of applicants has soared ahead of the Oct. 3 deadline to apply. As recently as late June, only about 20,000 had applied.

Applications have come in the greatest numbers from firefighters, police officers and construction workers who spent months on the smoking debris pile. It is unclear how many are actually ill, or who among them might qualify for compensation.