The federal judge overseeing the proposed $650-million settlement of health claims from thousands of Ground Zero workers suing New York City Tuesday announced that the deadline for accepting the deal has been extended by eight days.

Workers originally had until midnight Monday to decide whether to take the proposed payout. The deal only takes effect if at least 95 percent of the 10,000-plus claimants agree. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein has barred lawyers from disclosing whether the target was reached.

In an order issued late Tuesday, Hellerstein said a "huge influx" of opt-ins at the last minute has taxed the process, and said an extension was necessary to "ensure that all those who desire to opt into the settlement may do so."

The new deadline for the thousands of cops, firefighters and other workers who have made claims, including hundreds of Long Islanders, is Nov. 16 at midnight.

The judge said the city and its insurer - which potentially would have to try thousands of cases if the deal collapses - agreed to the extension, and he approved it. He did not reveal whether initial counts indicate that the 95-percent trigger has been reached yet.

The settlement plan calls for workers to receive payouts from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million, depending on the severity of their injuries and other factors. The total amount of the settlements can rise as high as $712 million if 100 percent of claimants accept the deal.

As of the last count Monday before Hellerstein barred public disclosures, lawyers for the claimants said they had topped 92 percent, with claimants in the lowest tier - who are entitled to receive just over $3,000 as compensation for their fear of illness - the slowest to sign on.

Hellerstein's order Tuesday extended his ban on any lawyers for plaintiffs, the city or its insurer revealing the tally. He said the official count will be done by a settlement administrator he appointed and will be available some time after Nov. 18.

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