Surviving 9/11: Photos of the Lucky Ones

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Note: These pictures come to us via LIFE.com. You can see hundreds more at their site, including a gallery of the 25 most powerful photos from that day.

It was a day of gruesome images. First, there was the suspicious smoke pouring out of the north tower. Then came the airline flight that exploded in a giant fireball against the south tower. Perhaps most sickening was the sight of businessmen and women leaping to their deaths. All of these scenes were captured on camera, and over the following days and months, they were everywhere -- in newspapers and magazines, on the Internet and television, and etched into our minds' eyes. 

But as we remember the people who died on September 11, 2001, it's well worth taking another look at those who survived. To call them "the lucky ones" might seem a stretch, given the trauma they experienced that day and afterward. Firefighters and police officers watched helplessly as the towers fell, knowing that members of their companies and squads were still inside. In these photos, the expressions on their faces are not of relief but of shock, exhaustion, and a despair too great for words. 

Other survivors walked away with physical and psychic wounds that took years to heal. Marcy Borders, the ash-covered women shown in the second photo below, was a Bank of America employee who defied her supervisor's orders to stay at her desk. But once she fought her way out of the World Trade Center, she was horrified at what greeted her. "I saw people with things sticking out of them, covered head to toe in blood," she later told the U.K.'s Daily Mail. "I thought, 'God, I'm going to die anyway.'" She didn't, but she spent the next several years battling a crack addiction that cost her custody of her two children until this past spring.

In the context of that day, though, these survivors were indeed the lucky ones. Ed Fine, the businessman shown in the first photo below, barely made it down from the 78th floor and was choking for breath as he trudged uptown. But unlike so many others, he came home that night to his wife of more than 30 years. To this day, he keeps his battered briefcase and his unused ferry ticket to remind himself how fortunate he is to be alive.

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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