9/11: 10 years later
Former resident survives WTC attack
September 07, 2011The Clarion News remembers the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by reprinting our articles detailing the area's connection to the tragedy. In addition, several members of the community look back to that terrible Tuesday to share their memories.
Last Tuesday began like any other weekday morning for Janet Liso. She made the 90-minute commute from her Middletown, N.J., home to the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, setting into her 67th floor office around 7:30.
However, Liso's morning — and life — quickly descended to hell.
Liso, 55, the former Janet Cook of Milltown, was going about her business for the New York Port Authority, for which she has worked for 17 years, when a hijacked jet — a Boeing 767 — slammed into the building at 8:45.
"I knew when I felt the building move how horrible it was. I was there, back in '93, when we were bombed," Liso said, referring to the earlier terrorist attack on the North Tower, "and I knew how the building felt at that time, and I knew this was so much worse. I just knew we had to get out of there."
The building immediately filled with ash and yellow smoke, Liso said. The impact was so tremendous she had to hold onto her office door.
"You could smell the jet fuel within, I would say, two to three seconds," she said.
Helped by a co-worker who would not leave her side for several hours, Liso moved as quickly as she could down the stairs. She struggled, however, from the asthma she developed, ironically, from the 1993 bombing.
"People were letting me go through because I was having a lot of difficulty breathing. One person actually gave me an inhaler," she said. Liso had left hers in her hurried exit.
Although people were letting her by, the progress was slow at times, Liso said. That is better than if people had gotten in too big of a rush, she said.
"The worst thing that can happen is people start falling on you, and, fortunately, everyone stayed relatively calm," she said.
"I think that a lot of the people had been through the bombing, and they felt very confident that there wouldn't be anything wrong, that we'd be able to get out, even though we didn't know what it was."
Liso is haunted by the images of firefighters going up the stairs and those who decided to wait until the crowd had passed before trying to get out of the building.
"As we were going down the lower floors and the firemen were coming up, I could still see so many faces. They were telling everyone that everything was going to be OK, to be calm," she said. "Some people actually decided to get out of the stairway and wait until the crowds cleared out. I don't know if any of those people made it that made that choice."
Outside the building, Liso was still having difficulty breathing. A rescue worker carried her a few feet to a sidewalk. What she saw then was horrifying.
"As I looked around, I could see the people with no skin. When I was lying on the sidewalk, I could see some people jumping out of the building."
Liso was quickly taken to a nearby ambulance so she could get oxygen.
By this time, a second jet, another Boeing 767, had smashed into the South Tower of the WTC, causing another incredible explosion and more chaos.
"In the ambulance, I just had this fear that the building was going to fall, just from the way I felt, the way it looked and everything," Liso said.
Liso had been out of the building for about 15 minutes when she urged her friend to unstrap her, so she could get out of the ambulance. The South Tower soon collapsed.
"If we had not gotten out of the ambulance, we would not have made it. The ambulance was crushed," she said. "We were very fortunate."
Liso still wonders about "the people that were just sitting there waiting to be treated on the street when the building came down. I don't think they had a chance."
Liso was about a block away when the South Tower collapsed.
"It's exactly like you see on TV," she said. "The sounds first, the big clouds of smoke, then people running and screaming. I stood back against the fence because I knew I couldn't run.
"It was as if it was the end of the world," she said.
"To me, I felt like everything was over. You start to think about all of your family, your friends, your loved ones. That was the hard part."
From there, Liso, who has vascular problems and difficulty walking, and her friend began making their long trek through the city, hoping to find transportation that would take them home.
"When the second building went down shortly after the first one," Liso said, "I think my greatest fear was the buildings in the whole lower Manhattan would fall."
Having left her shoes in the North Tower so she could walk quicker, Liso at first walked barefooted. Several people offered her their shoes, but all were too big and Liso was afraid she would fall. However, one woman gave Liso her socks to ease her discomfort.
That was one of many acts of kindness Liso and her friend received on their way home.
"Another woman — I was shaking so badly — took a sweater off and wrapped me in it," she said. "People were giving us water, helping us walk, offering food.
"At one point, because I was shaking, and it was very hot that day, one lady tried to give me some tea from a restaurant. I couldn't take it because I was afraid I would burn my hands because I was shaking so much.
"When I was wiping my nose and tears away on the bottom of my dress, another person came over with a napkin," Liso said.
"It was just tremendous — people coming up and just hugging you as you walked down the street," she said. "(They) could obviously tell that we had been in the building."
After walking 60 to 70 blocks — Liso is unsure how many — she got on a bus, then a boat and finally a train, which took her to her home, about 40 miles from the WTC.
She went to the hospital for a quick check-up, and finally arrived home for good around 8 p.m.
She had called her husband, Bob, about 2:30 p.m. to let him and the rest of her family know she was safe and on her way home.
"Without my husband, Bob, I don't think I would have made it out at all," Liso said. "I kept thinking about him."
Her son, Jeff Allen, and his wife, Jill, arrived at her house about 10 minutes after she got home.
"That was the best thing in the world," Liso said.
Jeff, who lives in Canton, Ohio, had been on his way to Columbus when Jill notified him of the attack on the WTC. He turned around, picked up Jill and immediately headed to New Jersey.
Other family members, including brothers Don and Jack Cook and sisters Pat Beasley and Shirley Roggenkamp, also went to be with Liso. They drove straight through to New Jersey.
Liso hasn't lived in Milltown for two decades, but she was remembered and prayed for by people in the area. For that, she is thankful.
"A lot of people that don't even know me but know my family called me to wish me well and to help my family get through it," she said.
Liso began working from her home Thursday. She felt she had to since the Port Authority oversees the WTC and the city's airports and bus terminals.
"I thought about the people who would need to be taken care of," she said. "To do that, my company needed me to do my job for them."
That doesn't mean she hasn't struggled emotionally. She couldn't sleep for three days and couldn't eat for two days.
"I think about all the other people who are lost, and I feel selfish sometimes because I made it and they didn't," she said, explaining it sometimes seems surreal.
Liso doesn't know how many of her friends didn't survive. Two for certain are missing.
"I've been there so many years, I know a lot of people, so, I'm sure, that number will grow," she said. "Right now, it's just too hard (emotionally) for me to find out."
Editor's note: Liso died March 2, 2009, at her home in Richmond, Va. She was 62.