Genelle Guzman

On the sixty-fourth floor, Genelle Guzman and her fourteen colleagues also heard the second crash. The ceiling shook, and smoke seeped ominously under the closed doors. "That's it!" One of the men shouted. "We're walking down!" Rosa and Genelle grabbed each other's hands, and followed the group to Stairway B. It was less smoky than they had anticipated. Genelle phoned Roger, her fiancee. He was waiting on a corner just a few blocks away, hoping that Genelle had managed to get out. "I'll meet you there!" He told her. "Hurry!" It was just 10 am, over an hour since the first plane had struck.

At first the trek went well. Rosa and Genelle clung to each other, and counted the flights "Twenty, nineteen, eighteen.." Genelle says. "I was wearing a new pair of high-heeled shoes and my feet hurt. When we reached the next landing, I stopped to take my shoes off." Just then there was a roar-like a locomotive coming straight for them. The floor shifted, and part of a wall fell toward Rosa and Genelle, pulling the woman apart. Dust filled the air, steel beams crashed, as people hurtled down flights of stairs. Then the lights went out. An eerie calm descended.

Genelle had been trapped by falling rocks. Now her head was pinned between two concrete pillars, her arms above her head, her legs under debris. "Help!" She cried out. "Is anyone there? Rosa?" But no one answered. Genelle had been the only survivor of the collapse in this area.

Slowly, Genelle took stock. "My right leg was buried up to the thigh in rubble," she says, "and my toes were numb." Perhaps worse was the worry over what had happened outside. Had New York City been hit by a bomb? Were her loved ones alive? But from what she remembered from her mother's faith, she wasn't alone in this terrible place. God knew where she was-and He was here too. She began to pray. Time passed, and as the dust settled, the light slowly faded. Genelle prepared to spend the night in utter darkness. "God," she pleaded, "Stay by my side."

Genelle couldn't know that the scene somewhere above her was one of chaos. Smoke billowed from the pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center; gigantic beams lay everywhere and sirens screamed. Shocked, bleeding people wandered aimlessly, while others ran for their lives. Thousands of people remained missing. Genelle was one of them.

Eventually, inside, the little ray of light returned, and Genelle knew it was morning. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she also knew that her life was ebbing away. "All feeling in my right leg was gone now," she says, "and I didn't think I could go too much longer without water." But still, she sensed the Presence of Someone who cared about her far more than she herself did. "God," she prayed, "please send me a sign that I'm going to get out of here. Or that if I don't, You'll be there to meet me."

Suddenly---was it true?-Genelle heard a muffled sound. "Hello!" She cried out, her voice hoarse and raspy from the dust. "Is anyone there?" There was movement, as if other people had entered the area. "I'm here!" She cried. "Can you hear me?" No one answered

Genelle's hand was still stuck above her head, but maybe if she could attract some attention. Frustrated, she tried to wave, and suddenly, she felt someone take hold of her hand, holding it in a warm and reassuring grip. "You're going to get out of here," a male voice told her. "Don't be afraid."

"Oh, thank God!" Genelle could hardly believe it. "Where did you come from? What's your name?"

"I'm Paul," the gentle voice answered. "I'm just ahead of the rescue team. They're coming to get you. I'll stay here with you."

Holding on as hard as she could, Genelle tried to open her eyes so she could see Paul's face. "But for some reason, my eyes just wouldn't open," she recalls. However, Paul was right-soon she could hear men's voices. "I'm shining a light down," someone called. "Can you see it?"

"No!" She called back, still unable to see anything. She used one hand to knock the staircase above her with a piece of concrete. The rescuers were definitely getting closer, but whenever they moved wreckage, fear surged through her-would there be another collapse? Paul seemed to know how she felt, and would give her other hand a squeeze. "It's going to take awhile," he told her more than once, soothing her mindless terror, "but I will stay with you. You're going to be fine."

An eternity passed, and finally, she heard two firemen above her, digging debris away from her leg, calling for others to send down a stretcher. "We've got her!" One shouted. As they reached her, in the confusion and joy of the moment, Genelle let go of Paul's hand, and let the others lift her on to the stretcher. It was twelve-thirty p.m. She had spent 26 hours buried underground, and she would be the last survivor pulled from the wreckage. Crowds cheered as she was carried to an ambulance. "I noticed that it was a sunny day, and I could open my eyes now," Genelle says. "I wondered why I had not been able to open them and look at Paul." She had not seen him yet, and didn't want to forget his name. She would never be able to repay Paul for the care and comfort he brought to her during this terrible time. But she would try. .

(Some time later) some of the firemen who rescued her came to visit her at home. She thanked them all, then asked which one was Paul. "Paul?" The men looked at one another.

"Paul," Genelle said. "The one who found me first, the one who held my hand. He was just ahead of the rescue team."

The men shuffled and shook their heads. They knew every member of that squad, all the firemen who had been searching for survivors. There was no one named Paul in any of those groups, and definitely no one ahead of them..

Who do you think Paul was?

Joan Anderson Copyrighted by Joan Wester Anderson, used with permission. Originally appeared on the Where Angels Walk website,

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