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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- Thursday marked a dark day in New Orleans history. Four decades ago, a downtown high-rise caught on fire, forcing some of those trapped inside to attempt to jump to safety.

Not everyone survived. One Metairie woman did and she is still alive to share her story of survival.

'I got a massage,' she said. On November 29, 1972, Natalie Smith showed up for a hair appointment on the 15th floor of the Rault Center on Gravier Street. Smith says she would let another client on a lunch break go ahead of her.

That decision would be life changing.

'I got on my knees and I called out to Jesus, and I said: 'Jesus if you can hear me? Take care of me, Roy and the kids need me,' said Smith.

A massive fire broke out in the downtown building, trapping Smith and four others in the burning high-rise.

'I thought we could crawl to the exit, but the fire was too low and I shut the door,' Smith said. The group waving helplessly to firefighters and the crowd below would decide to do the unthinkable.

'I don't even remember going out the window,' said the 79-year-old.

'There were cameras across and they couldn't seen anything, but here I turned over,' said Smith of her miraculous landing.

According to Eyewitness News archives, the group jumped seven floors to a nearby building and five people would die. Smith spent weeks in a coma, confined to a full bodycast, finally waking to her son's insistent chatter.

'My oldest son, when he gets nervous, he talks a lot and he was right here. The first words I said were, 'Marcelle, shut up,'' said Smith smiling, 'And he went home and told everyone mother talked today.'

'This is my watch I had on. This bracelet had four charms. I gave three to grandchildren,' said Smith looking over some of the items she wore the day of the fire.

Although the full memory of that fateful day remains a blur, Smith credits her story of survival on one thing: 'God performs miracles everyday. Its just mine was on TV,' said Smith.

The Rault Center fire changed state law requiring high-rise buildings to have sprinklers.

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