In the wreckage of the World Trade Center, Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the last person found alive when United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. On that same day she arrived at the 64th floor of the World Trade Center. Unfortunately when the attack was launched, she ended up being buried for 27 hours after the towers fell, the longest time of anyone. Her story should have been included in the 2006 documentary about the World Trade Center.
At the Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Sept. 1, 2021, Genelle Guzman-McMilan discussed her experiences with Fort McCoy residents (NCOA). The NCOA and Fort McCoy Army Community Service collaborated to put together the event.
At the time of the attacks, Guzman-McMilan was employed for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was based on the 64th level of the World Trade Center’s north tower. The north tower was the first to be struck, although it was the second to fall.
She claimed that when the first plane hit her building, she initially mistook it for an earthquake because she had experienced earthquakes in her native Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps a tiny jet had hit the structure, which the World Trade Center was designed to withstand, she speculated.
Others in her office, including Guzman-McMilan, instantly departed, while others in her office tried to figure out what was going on first. She explained that they’d just conducted an emergency drill, and she figured it couldn’t be that severe because the alarms and emergency lights weren’t going off. They didn’t realize how awful things were until they switched on a television in a conference room and watched the sights being displayed.
When Guzman-McMilan called her family, she said she couldn’t believe what she was seeing or hearing. “Do you mean me, the small island girl?” “Did you get caught up in a terrorist attack?” she asked.
Over the phone, emergency services advised them to keep there and that rescuers would be on their way. They investigated stairwells for obstructions and used wetted jackets and sweaters to keep smoke out of their workspace.
“The structure shook once more. It swung a little. “And then the other building collapsed,” Guzman-Mcmilan explained. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh no.’ We’re on our way down. … We’re not going anywhere.”
One of the managers decided they couldn’t wait any longer for help, so their coworkers went around the stairwells again, looking for one that had working lights and appeared to be clear. Around 15 of them started descending the stairwells.
Guzman-McMilan said she was wearing high-heeled boots that day and that her friend and coworker Rosa Gonzalez kept asking her to take them off so they could move faster, but she insisted on keeping them on because she wanted something to protect her feet when she went outdoors. They came across firefighters moving upstairs to inspect the higher stories, who advised them to continue outdoors.
She stated she had to take off her shoes somewhere around the 15th floor since her feet were hurting so much. That’s when the second tower came crashing down.
“Everything simply came crashing down,” she said of the dust and darkness. “It all happened so quickly.”
During the fall, she lost Gonzalez’s hand, which she had held for the majority of the descent. She claimed she covered her head as best she could and pretended to be having a nightmare. She discovered she couldn’t move when she regained consciousness.
Her legs felt like they were being crushed and her body was twisted in an unusual way. Her head was stuck between two pillars, she added, and she could feel steel pushing into her back.
“I’m always on the lookout. The radios keep playing in my head. The firetrucks kept screaming in my ears. Guzman-McMilan added, “I kept hearing the walkie talkies and the communication going on.” “And I couldn’t speak for some reason.” I wanted to, but I couldn’t get my voice to open up and say ‘help.’”
Guzman-McMilan had been trapped in the wreckage for 27 hours before she was discovered by rescuers. She claimed she was awake and aware the entire time following the initial shock, albeit she had no idea how long it had been. She wanted to fall asleep at one point so she wouldn’t have to deal with the discomfort any longer.
Despite the fact that she had never been religious before, she began praying during her ordeal, requesting a second chance.
She attributes her survival to God and possibly a guardian angel. She claimed she felt a hand reach through the rubble and grab the one who wasn’t completely engulfed. The owner of the hand introduced himself as Paul and began urging her to keep going and assured her that she would make it through. As the radio noise grew louder,
Paul advised Guzman-McMilan that she needed to speak up so that rescuers could find her, she added.
Before the rescuers arrived, the hand left go of hers, and Guzman-McMilan said she never learned who Paul was, leading her to assume he was a guardian angel.
She spent months in the hospital after that, with doctors speculating that her leg could need to be amputated at one point. None of her coworkers who had left the office with her survived the collapse, and she didn’t realize she was the last person to emerge alive until much later.
Guzman-McMilan said she’s not sure why she survived while so many others, particularly her friends and coworkers, did not, but she’s glad for the second chance she was given. She added that following her survival, she put her confidence in God and now shares her story with others. She prayed at the end of her talk, asking God to share his grace and plan with those around her.
Guzman-McMilan is an active member of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church and a volunteer for the American Red Cross and the 9/11 Tribute Center, according to her profile on her website, www.genelleguzmanmcmillan.com. Since Sept. 11, 2001, she has received numerous awards and proclamations from New York mayors and senators, including a Medal of Honor from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.