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9/11 Survivor Known As 'Dust Lady' From Iconic Photo Dies


The image of her ash-covered face was one of the most memorable photographs taken on September 11. Marcy Borders became known as Dust Lady. Her family tells NPR that she died this week of stomach cancer. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Marcy Borders worked in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That Tuesday morning in 2001, Borders and her coworkers felt the building shake.

MARCY BORDERS: So then I begin to panic. So they sat me down, told me to you, know you, relax, take deep breaths.


WANG: Borders shared her memories of 9/11 in an interview with photographer Mike McGregor. She said at first, they didn't know that a hijacked plane had struck the tower and exploded about a dozen floors above her office. But after she saw the chairs, office supplies and people falling from the windows, she headed for the stairs.

M. BORDERS: You just heard people screaming, stay away from the glass; stay away from the glass. You saw injured - I saw people with objects in them, burnt skulls. It was crazy compared to what I just left.

WANG: Borders made it to the street just as the South Tower was falling down. A stranger grabbed her arm and led her into a nearby lobby chased by a cloud of dust.

M. BORDERS: Every time I inhaled, my mouth just filled up with it. I was choking. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. I was just like, you know, saying to myself and saying out loud that I didn't want to die; I didn't want to die.

WANG: A photographer captured her standing in the lobby, distraught, gray dust from her hair to her boots, her eyes peeking through her soot-covered face. That's how the 28-year-old native of Bayonne New Jersey became the Dust Lady. Marcy Borders's daughter Noelle says the trauma of that day led to a decade of depression, drugs and alcohol abuse.

N. BORDERS Everything that my mother did, she did for her kids. And when things started to spill over into her kids' life, she knew that she had to get her life right and back on track because not only did we need her. She needed us.

WANG: After checking into rehab a few years ago, Marcy Borders needed her family again last summer when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On Twitter, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called her death a difficult reminder of the tragedy our city suffered nearly 14 years ago. Noelle says she'll remember her mother for fighting an amazing battle.

NOELLE BORDERS: Not only is she the Dust Lady, but she is my hero. And the Dust has settled, and she is free now.

WANG: Marcy Borders was 42. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.