9/11 'dust lady' Marcy Borders dies of cancer at 42

Marcy Borders became known as the "dust lady" after a photo showed her covered in dust as she escaped the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.
Marcy Borders became known as the "dust lady" after a photo showed her covered in dust as she escaped the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.AFP

A woman who became known as the "dust lady" of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US has died aged 42 after suffering from stomach cancer.

Marcy Borders became known as the "dust lady" after a photo showed her covered in dust as she escaped the World Trade Center during the attacks.

Her photograph became one of the enduring images of the tragedy.

Ms Borders, a mother of two, died on Monday, her family said on Facebook, according to a BBC report.

She blamed her cancer on inhaling dust during the attack and suffered from alcoholism and anxiety in later years.

"I can't believe my sister is gone," her brother Michael Borders wrote on Facebook.

Her cousin John Borders called her a "hero" and said she had "succumbed to the diseases that (had) ridden her body since 9/11".

"In addition to losing so many friends, co-workers and colleagues on and after that tragic day ... the pains from yesteryear have found a way to resurface," he added.

On Sept 11, 2001, Ms Borders was just one month into a new job at Bank of America on the 81st floor of the north tower when the plane hit.

"The building started quaking and swaying. I lost all control, and I went into a frenzy. I fought my way out of that place," she told the Daily Mail in 2011.

Defying instructions from her boss to stay put, she fled down the stairway and into the lobby of an adjacent building where she was photographed by AFP's Stan Honda.

Mr Honda, a professional photographer, recalled the moment in a post on Facebook on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

"A woman came in completely covered in grey dust. You could tell she was nicely dressed for work and for a second she stood in the lobby. I took one shot of her before the police officer started to direct people up a set of stairs, thinking it would be safer off the ground level."

Ms Borders, who was from New Jersey, was not aware she had been photographed until her mother saw the image the following day and contacted Mr Honda, said the BBC in a report on her death.

In the years after the attacks, as her picture became one of the most iconic images of the day, Ms Borders suffered from severe depression and drug addiction and lost custody of her two children.

"I didn't do a day's work in nearly 10 years and by 2011 I was a complete mess," she told The New York Post in the same year. "Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked."

But after a spell in rehab starting in April that year, she became sober and regained custody.

Ms Borders' daughter Noelle told the New York Post on Wednesday her mother "fought an amazing battle".

"Not only is she the 'Dust Lady' but she is my hero and she will forever live through me," she said.

In November 2014, Ms Borders revealed that she had stomach cancer and said she believed the illness was a result of her experience in 2001.

"I definitely believe it because I haven't had any illnesses," she told US newspaper the New Jersey Journal. "I don't have high blood pressure ... high cholesterol, diabetes."

"How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?"

Thousands of people who were at Ground Zero that day have been since diagnosed with cancer, but medical officials have not confirmed a direct link between the conditions and the attacks.

Stomach cancer is one of more than 50 conditions covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law by Barack Obama in 2010.

The act provided a US$2.78 billion fund to compensate survivors and first responders for related health problems.