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World Trade Center Survivors

Aired December 8, 2001 - 07:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, stories of survival in the face of death.

One of the first engine companies to arrive on the scene.


PAT ZODA, FIREFIGHTER, ENGINE COMPANY SEVEN: If we were two more floors up, we would have been dead.


ANNOUNCER: A woman trapped under tons of rubble for 27 hours.


GENELLE GUZMAN, NEW YORK PORT AUTHORITY: I'm not going to make it. I'm going to die here. I'm going to see myself slowly dying.


ANNOUNCER: A New York City fire official who watched his boss and best friend walk into the jaws of danger.


STEVE MOSIELLO, FIRE MARSHAL, NEW YORK CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: I kept trying to reach him, and I got no response.


ANNOUNCER: How those who survived are dealing with living, when so many died.


DAMIEN VANCLEAF, FIREFIGHTER, ENGINE COMPANY SEVEN: I feel guilty every day, every morning. I always feel guilty.


ANNOUNCER: Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For New York City firefighter Damien Vancleaf, the second Tuesday of September started as a routine morning.

VANCLEAF: I was just coming in to work. I had just relieved someone else. They went home, and just doing what we do every morning.

TUCHMAN: He and the other firefighters of Engine Company Seven reporting for duty that day had no idea of the drama about to unfold. Their station stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

VANCLEAF: The lieutenants' test was coming up in October, so we were up in the room studying when the run for the gas leak came in.

TUCHMAN: While out investigating that gas leak, they noticed something that was anything but routine.

VANCLEAF: I heard a vibration. Then we all looked up and saw the plane. Something was wrong. We -- you never see a plane in downtown Manhattan, especially that low. I could see almost every detail on the plane. That's why I knew it was way too low.

TUCHMAN: The firefighters watched in shock as the plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

VANCLEAF: By the time we actually realized what was going on, we pretty much threw all our gear on the rig, and we started to respond down to the Trade Center.

TUCHMAN: Engine Seven was one of the first companies to arrive on the scene.

VANCLEAF: I remember taking an extra couple of seconds before running in to make sure we had everything and make sure we were ready to go, because this was going to be a big one.

TUCHMAN: Genelle Guzman was working on the 645th floor for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey when she felt the building shake.

GUZMAN: I was scared. I mean, the building shake, and they say the airplane hit the building. But I had no idea where, where the building was hit.

TUCHMAN: The North Tower was hit between the 96th and 103rd floors. While the tower blazed above, the 30-year-old Trinidad native was told by Port Authority officials to stay put.

Watching the horrific scene from Fire Department headquarters across the East River in Brooklyn, New York City Fire Chief Pete Ganci and his right-hand man, Steve Mosiello.

STEVE MOSIELLO, FIRE MARSHAL, NEW YORK CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We saw the smoke billowing, the fire, and that people were in trouble. People out there were definitely in trouble. TUCHMAN: They raced across the Brooklyn Bridge in Chief Ganci's car. Also with them, Danny Nigro, then the fire chief of operations.

DANNY NIGRO, CHIEF, NEW YORK CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: I said to Pete, "This is going to be the worst day we've ever had." And little did I know it was even worse than I imagined.

TUCHMAN: The three made it to the scene in less than 10 minutes. Ganci immediately set up a command post on the ramp to a garage near the North Tower.

MOSIELLO: We were standing with the chief and we heard somebody yell, you know, "There's another plane." I didn't see it immediately. Then it came into range of my hearing, and I heard it, and it sounded louder and louder and louder. And there it was, went right into the building, into Tower Two.

Now we have a real problem on our hands. We have two buildings hit by planes, thousands and thousands of people trapped.

TUCHMAN: One of those still trapped inside the North Tower, Genelle Guzman. She was making frantic calls for advice on what to do.

GUZMAN: I started crying and made phone calls to my family and stuff. And I told them, OK, I'm just waiting on instructions to get out. And I told my boyfriend, I said, "Well, I'm leaving."

ROGER MCMILLEN, GUZMAN'S BOYFRIEND: So I told her, "You know what? Just meet me outside Century 21." That's across the street from the World Trade Center. And I left.

TUCHMAN: Moments later, Guzman tried to call again. She got his cell phone voicemail and left this final message.


GUZMAN: Honey, I'm still inside of the building. I don't know, we have to wait until somebody come and get us out, OK? I'll try and call you back again. Bye. I love you.



TUCHMAN: Downstairs, the men of Engine Seven had arrived to a scene of horror.

PAT ZODA, FIREFIGHTER, ENGINE COMPANY SEVEN: They was just all burnt, everything was burnt. There were people on fire that we literally put them out, but we just had to leave, we had to go head up. I mean, they were just -- I don't know, everything was just burnt.

TUCHMAN: They began making their way up the stairs of the North Tower with other firefighters. Then, the unthinkable. VANCLEAF: While we were operating up on the 21st floor, you know, there was a sick vibration.

TUCHMAN: That vibration was the South Tower collapsing next door.

VANCLEAF: After that vibration -- and it seemed like, you know, it was just something that wasn't right, and eventually I heard the order to vacate, to back out, to evacuate the building.

TUCHMAN: Outside, in the chaos of the South Tower's collapse, Chief Ganci and his executive assistant, Steve Mosiello, had somehow managed to escape.

MOSIELLO: And we all retreated into the basement of Two World Financial. The basement was full of dust. You couldn't breathe. We couldn't find a way to get out. Everybody who was in there, we finally found a staircase, and we all got out.

NIGRO: When all of the people came out of the basement of the World Financial Center, out of the parking garage, and Pete sent everyone north to put a command post in a safe location, a safer location.

TUCHMAN: That moment would forever haunt Steve Mosiello. Pete Ganci had sent him away and then walked into danger.

MOSIELLO: This specific day, I felt that I should be as close to him as possible, because there was a lot going on.

TUCHMAN: Just moments after Chief Ganci radioed Mosiello his location, the North Tower fell.

MOSIELLO: I was thinking the worst. I was honestly thinking the worst at that point.

TUCHMAN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, dealing with the disastrous aftermath.

MOSIELLO: I kept trying to reach him, and I got no response.




TUCHMAN: Engine Seven was one of the first companies to arrive on the scene. Some of the firefighters had made it up as far as the 31st floor of the North Tower, the first tower hit in the terrorist attack. When the South Tower collapsed next door, the order came to evacuate.

ZODA: We just got to the lobby, and there was no one there. It looked like the end of the world. TUCHMAN: Genelle Guzman, a 30-year-old mother and administrative assistant for the Port Authority, was not far behind. After waiting for almost an hour, she decided to make her way down from her office on the 64th floor, down to her boyfriend waiting for her outside.

Only 13 flights to go.

GUZMAN: Just like, boom. And we fell to the ground. And then everything started crumbling faster and heavier.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So were you there when the second building collapsed?

MCMILLEN: I saw the antenna actually coming down.

TUCHMAN: So you thought she was dead.

MCMILLEN: Definitely.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Coordinating the rescue efforts outside, the highest-ranking uniformed officer of the fire department, Chief Peter Ganci, three decades on the force, father of three. Pete Ganci was not only Steve Mosiello's boss, he was his best friend.

CHRIS GANCI, PETER GANCI'S SON: It was a marriage. I didn't want to make my mom jealous or anything, but it definitely was. He spent more time with my father than we did.

TUCHMAN: Ganci had helped Mosiello find a home in his neighborhood, right across the street. The two worked in each other's houses, they played golf together. The usual bet, a dime a hole. Their days often began hours before sunup. They would then drive into work together.

MOSIELLO: I would get up early in the morning, 4:15, put the coffee on, open the back door of my deck, go take my shower, do my routine. And I'd come down, and he'd be sitting there waiting for me. He'd be drinking his coffee and smoking and doing whatever we did in the morning.

TUCHMAN: But September 11 was no ordinary day. Chief Ganci wasn't even scheduled to work that morning. He had been called for jury duty.

MOSIELLO: We were passing one of the parkways that would have brought us towards the courts. I said, you know, "Do you want to go to jury duty and make an appearance?" He said, "Steve, I have so many meetings today, I -- you know, we just can't get there today."

TUCHMAN: That morning would be the last one they would spend together. After Ganci ordered Mosiello away to get backup, the fire chief began walking toward the debris of the South Tower's collapse.

Moments later, the North Tower fell, burying him under four feet of rubble.

Both towers were gone, and so was Steve Mosiello's best friend.

MOSIELLO: I kept trying to reach him, and I got no response. It was so eerie, because the chaos of radios at a fire scene, there's always conversations going on. And after that building came down, you heard absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.

TUCHMAN: Genelle Guzman remembers the silence too. She had dropped 13 floors, surviving the collapse of the North Tower. But her head was pinned between two concrete pillars, her legs trapped in a staircase.

GUZMAN: I waited to, you know, to see if I hear anybody call out or anything. And I heard nothing.

TUCHMAN: The light peeking through the concrete eventually gave way to darkness.

GUZMAN: I think I was going to die. Just when I saw that it became dark and no one came, and I'm not hearing any noises nowhere around, so I think, I'm not going to make it, I'm going to die here. I'm going to see myself slowly die here.

TUCHMAN: By dusk, one by one, the firefighters of Engine Seven began to find their way back to home base. The entire team had escaped the North Tower with just minutes to spare before the building came crashing down.

DENNIS TARDIO, CAPTAIN, ENGINE COMPANY SEVEN: You know, everything happened so quick. I mean, that building came down, I think, literally in 10 seconds. And I was able to run maybe one block.

TUCHMAN: Engine Seven escaped without losing a single person.

ZODA: If we were one more floor, if we were two more floors, what would have, you know, what would have happened to us? I said, Sir, I believe if we were two more floors up, we would have been dead.

TUCHMAN: Pete Ganci was not as fortunate. Steve Mosiello helped recover his friend's body from the rubble. It was up to Mosiello to give the Ganci family the bad news.

MOSIELLO: Here I am, his best friend, his closest friend, his aide, his executive assistant, his driver, everybody, and I'm standing before them and he's not.

TUCHMAN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Genelle Guzman's dark hours trapped beneath tons of concrete.

GUZMAN: I asked God to show me a miracle and show me a sign that I'm going to get out of here today and not the next day.

TUCHMAN: And the painful struggles of moving on.

MOSIELLO: I play that day over every day that I'm awake, that day gets played out in my mind. (END VIDEOTAPE)



TUCHMAN: The morning after, smoke billowed from the site that used to be the World Trade Center. The haggard firemen of Engine Seven joined in the arduous, round-the-clock dig for victims.

Trapped under tons of debris, Genelle Guzman had all but given up. She prayed and drifted in and out of sleep.

GUZMAN: And the next thing after I woke up, and I started to pray again. I asked God to show me a miracle, you know, show me a sign that I'm going to get out of here today and not the next day. And it so happened that I heard noises, like people moving stuff. And I yelled out, and someone answered back.

TUCHMAN: Twenty-seven hours after the North Tower's collapse, Guzman made contact with rescuers.

GUZMAN: And then I took a piece of concrete and I knocked the stair above me. And then they heard the knocking, and then they started to come closer. And then I put my hands through a little crack in the ceiling, like, in the wall, and I felt the person hold my hand, the fireman found my hand, and he said, "I got you." And I said, "Thank God."

TUCHMAN: Her legs were crushed, her eyes swollen shut, but Genelle Guzman was clear of the concrete, the dust, the darkness. She would be the last person pulled alive from the wreckage.

MCMILLEN: The phone rang. "Roger McMillen?" I said, "Yes." "We need you to come to Bellvue Hospital. We found Genelle Guzman." I was, like, "OK," and I hung up. But then it hit me, what are you calling me for? Is this good or bad news?

TUCHMAN (on camera): Is she alive or dead?

MCMILLEN: Am I going to view a dead body, or a living body? So...

TUCHMAN: So you didn't even know.

MCMILLEN: I didn't know.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): At the hospital, McMillen did not immediately recognize his girlfriend, her face distorted from swelling.

(on camera): What did you say to her?

MCMILLEN: I cried. We both cried.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): On the Saturday following the attacks, the New York City Fire Department and the Gancis laid the head of their family to rest. Along the 15-mile procession from the church to the graveyard, civilians and firefighters lined the route, paying their respects to a leader, a neighbor, a best friend.

MOSIELLO: I miss him. I miss him a lot. We were close. You know, I told his wife, I said, you know, "You'll never understand this, but Pete and I loved each other." We were -- and we never said it. But we just had that feeling for each other that men get, and we were real close. Wasn't anything we wouldn't do for each other.

TUCHMAN: Several of Engine Seven's firefighters report daily to ground zero to help in the grim recovery effort.

DANIEL CARUSO, FIREFIGHTER, ENGINE COMPANY SEVEN: What goes through my mind is, Who is this? Who could this be? You know. I lost quite a few close friends, you know, and I think to myself, Is this one of my friends, you know, close friends that I've worked hand in hand with?

TUCHMAN: The usual bravado of the fire station is replaced, at least to some degree, by another feeling.

VANCLEAF: I feel guilty every day, every morning, every -- you know, I'm always -- I always feel guilty about it. I don't know why, I guess that's part of surviving something like that.

DR. JOHN GREENE, PSYCHOLOGIST, BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: Survivor guilt is when you take on more responsibility than -- or you think you had more control than you had. Oftentimes the person will feel that he didn't do enough, or that he did something wrong, or he had some ability to change the course of events.

TUCHMAN: Engine Seven's nickname used to be The Magnificent Seven. After September 11, someone wrote a moniker on one of the fire trucks, Lucky Seven.

VANCLEAF: Right now, I don't feel lucky. I mean, after that day, somebody, I think, somebody jumped up there and wrote that as -- you know, as the way we felt that evening. But every day since then, don't -- it's a great thing for Seven Engine, but the department wasn't lucky that day.

TUCHMAN: Though Genelle Guzman fell from the 13th floor, she does feel lucky.

GUZMAN: It's just like, it's so amazing, you know, to be here, sitting in here, not in a hospital bed, coming to the gym. It's a great feeling.

TUCHMAN: After three surgeries and five weeks in the hospital, Guzman continues her fight to grow strong. Though she'll require a brace to walk, Genelle perseveres with grueling physical therapy twice a week.

But she has an eye toward the future.

(on camera): Before you -- this all happened to you, what were a couple of your hobbies?

GUZMAN: Dancing. I used to go to a lot of parties.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): She hopes to dance again, with Roger at their wedding. The two got engaged on November 7.

GUZMAN: I'm just so thankful to be here. I can see my life in a completely different direction. I just want to have a family, be close to my family, and, you know, just give praise and thanks for just being here.

TUCHMAN: Chief Ganci's family struggles to heal. In their sorrow, solace in a heroic legacy.

GANCI: Would I want my father here to spend time with, to talk to? Of course. You know, but he played his part that day. He was a true hero. There's not that many times you can go around and say that your father was a real all-American hero.

TUCHMAN: Steve Mosiello is doing his best to cope. Though he now drives alone to the fire department, he still gets up at 4:15, and he still puts on the coffee, and he still unlocks his door.

MOSIELLO: There is no time I don't look over at his house and think about him, think about his family, and that's day in and day out, every day. It's getting easier. I'm sure it's getting easier for them. But it will never, ever be easy.





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