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Tunnel To Towers Helping Families Of Those Lost To 9/11-Related Illnesses To Mark 20 Years Since Attacks

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is known for supporting families of first responders who have died in the line of duty.

On Tuesday, organizers announced they will also be helping the families of those who died of 9/11-related illnesses.

"Tunnel to Towers will pay off the mortgages of first responders who have died of 9/11 illnesses that leave young families behind," said Chairman and CEO Frank Siller.

As CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reports, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Tunnel to Towers promises to pay off 200 mortgages by the end of the year.

The foundation was started by the family of FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller, who died on 9/11. It honors first responders who have lost their lives, making sure their loved ones left behind -- especially those with young children -- don't lose their homes, too.

Nearly two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks, NYPD and FDNY members continue to die of related illnesses, including Erika Oelkers' husband, Tom, who died three weeks ago.

"When Tom and I bought our home, we knew that it would be our forever home and we dreamt of raising our three daughters there and growing old there together," she said. "And while I'm devastated that he's not here to enjoy that with us, I'm thankful for this program."

Sarah Hunt, a mother of four, lost her husband, NYPD Sgt. Jeremiah Hunt, to 9/11-related cancer in 2019.

"No one could have ever guessed that the work these men and women took part in to help their brothers, sisters and city through its darkest hour would come back to haunt them so many years later," she said.

"It is unbelievable the amount of them that have given their lives that were down there on the pile," Siller said. "So many were digging on that pile to find my brother, to find their brothers, their sisters, their mothers, their fathers, and they stayed down there for days and weeks and months ... and because of it, so many of them are sick."

Organizers say in addition to the reading of the names on Sept. 11, this year there will be a second reading of the names on Sept. 12, specifically for those who died of 9/11-related illnesses.

The foundation has raised millions of dollars from donations and its annual run through the Battery Tunnel, which will return in person this year after it was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

Registration for this year's race opened Tuesday. To sign up, visit

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