As we approach the 20th anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil, we are reminded of the string of tragedies that occurred that day. Four hijacked planes. Two imploding skyscrapers. The home of the most powerful army on earth went up in flames.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day in plane crashes, collapsing buildings and desperate leaps from burning buildings. Still, such disasters tend to leave only a few people standing out as unlikely survivors.
An administrative assistant with the Port Authority, Genelle Guzman was in her 64th Floor office when she felt a huge crash overhead. She looked out the window and saw a giant fireball.
That day, those inside the towers generally had less info than those outside; Guzman and her colleagues didn’t realize the cause and extent of the explosion until they turned on the television. One look sent most fleeing for the exits. But Guzman and about 15 other coworkers stayed…
… because the intercom told them to. The PA system asked everyone to remain in place and await further instruction. There they stood until, at 9:03am, United Flight 175 slammed into the opposite building. Time to go.
Progress was painstaking. Packed stairwells were clogged further first by ascending firemen, then, at 9:59am, by the collapse of the South Tower, which sent plumes of debris and smoke pouring into its still-standing sibling.
They reached Floor 13 when, at 10:28am, the North Tower came down. Everyone died.
Except Genelle Guzman. Her head was pinned between two concrete pillars and her leg was so badly mangled it would nearly be amputated, but she was alive. And she stayed alive – in a smoldering maze of twisted steel – for an amazing 27 hours before firefighter Paul Somin and his rescue dog found her. In the early afternoon of September 12, Guzman became the last of the few survivors found in what became known to rescuers as “the pile.”