Meet the Twin Towers' miracle survivor

03:42, Aug 21 2011
MIRACLE SURVIVOR: Genelle Guzman-McMillan at Auckland's viaduct basin.

When people meet Genelle Guzman-McMillan for the first time, they are frequently reduced to tears and often want to hug her.

It's something the 39-year-old has grown used to over the past 10 years – since she was pulled out of the rubble of the Northern Twin Tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.

For 27 hours Guzman-McMillan was trapped among the debris and was the last survivor to be pulled from Ground Zero.

'NAIL BITING': Genelle Guzman-McMillan's book is about her 27-hour ordeal under rubble at the World Trade Center.

In Auckland this week to promote her book Angel in the Rubble about her ordeal, she says it "just wasn't her time".

Since that fateful day, she has received several awards and proclamations, including a Medal of Honour from New York's Port Authority, and is a volunteer for the American Red Cross.

Her wedding was televised and she has been the subject of much media attention. With the 10th anniversary of the deadly aerial al Qaeda attacks only weeks away, she is bracing herself for another round of interviews.



This year the anniversary is on a Sunday and after an initial appearance on a morning TV show, Guzman-McMillan plans to spend the day at church. Born and raised in Trinidad, Guzman-McMillan had always believed in God but had never considered herself religious, but found herself praying for her life while in the rubble.

Since her rescue she has overhauled her life, transforming from a self-confessed "wild Genelle" to a regular churchgoer who is "just so humble".

"God has been so good to me, I've got a second chance at life, I'm just so grateful."

Her most abiding memory of her ordeal was thinking, "I'm going to die, I'm not going to see my daughter again".

On September 11, 2001, Guzman-McMillan began her working day as usual, heading to her administration job on the 64th floor of the northern tower of the World Trade Centre.

After organising coffee for colleagues and settling into her own work, they heard a loud bang and felt the floor shake but nothing else seemed to happen.

Then clouds of paper started to float past the window, and despite being told a plane had slammed into their building, they were advised to remain where they were.

But they began to make their way down the stairs to get out. Just as they neared the bottom, the building began to sway and the entire tower collapsed. Guzman-McMillan has been near Ground Zero since the terror attacks that claimed the lives of 2753 victims.

But she has never been back to the actual site, and doesn't plan to.

"I have to live with it for the rest of my life."

While she welcomed the recent death of al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden, she avoids blaming anyone for 9/11.

"My life is in a different stage now."

Her health, unlike many survivors' and rescuers', has been great since her recovery.

Doctors had wanted to amputate her right leg, which was crushed, but Guzman-McMillan endured several operations and wore a brace for about a year before she could walk unassisted.

There have been no nightmares either, which she says is "because of God". But she concedes everyone handles tragedy differently.

She hopes other survivors and those who lost family and friends can find the peace she has discovered, "to live your life in a positive way. You've got to ask now what is the big picture and bring hope to others".

Sometimes she finds it "too much to go through" and doesn't give her account of events when others tell her what happened to them that day.

But when she does, "I see the reaction on people's faces and I know it was worth it".

Sunday Star Times