WTC victim thankful for family, friends back home, and all those strangers
Janet Cook Liso is reminded of Sept. 11 every day on the TV or radio. She can’t escape it, so she keeps busy, working extra hard trying to do everything she can for her company, the New York Port Authority. She hasn’t seen a professional counselor yet, but that’s an option. She’s glad to be alive and thankful for family and friends in her hometown, Milltown, who have sent messages of love and support.
“They have given me a lot of comfort,” she said last week.
And she remembers all those perfect strangers in New York City that day who offered help.
Janet Liso, 55, was at work in her office on the 67th floor of the World Trade Centers’ North Tower in New York City when the hijacked jetliner crashed into the skyscraper at 8:45 a.m.
Liso is the investment manager for the New York Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center. She’s worked there 18 years. She was there in 1993 when the same place was bombed by terrorists.
That saved her life.
When the huge Boeing 767 loaded with jet fuel disappeared into the North Tower, the whole building shook violently. Liso knew immediately that something really terrible had happened. “There was no comparison between the way the building moved. This was so much worse,” she said. “We immediately started down the stairway.”
Liso didn’t see the plane come at her, but it hit on her side of the building, ripping a jagged chasm in the building between the 93rd and 98th floors.
“If you weren’t sitting down or holding on to something,” she said, “the impact knocked you down.” Looking out the windows, she saw all kinds of debris falling from the floors above, and she smelled jet fuel right away.
The man in the office next to hers, Bruce Bohlen, the Port Authority treasurer, had the same gut feeling about the seriousness of their situation: “Everybody get out now!” he yelled.
Two of Liso’s good friends in her office chose not to leave. There were no announcements. They had not been there in 1993, and both perished.
Liso and hundreds of others filed down one of many stairways in the 110-story building. The people were calm, even though they were getting soaked by sprinkler systems. She was hacking so hard from asthma she’d developed as a result of the smoke in the 1993 bombing that people let her move ahead of them. One even gave her an inhaler.
On their way down, they were reassured by firefighters on their way upstairs. Most of them would soon die.
Outside the building, Liso was having difficulty breathing. An ambulance worker told her to lie down on the street so he could give her oxygen. Her colleague, Andrew Irving, cradled her, and a man she didn’t know took off his shirt to keep her warm because she was shaking so much.
They looked up and saw people jumping out of the fiery building, choosing in one anguished moment to leap to certain death rather than be burned alive.
The ambulance worker wanted Liso and Irving to stay, but they chose to get out of there. She figures they were about half a block away when the South Tower, struck by the second hijacked jet a few minutes after the first one, collapsed in a horrifying avalanche of steel, glass, concrete, smoke and dust.
Liso, Irving and other survivors ran as fast as they could as the area was covered in a gigantic rolling cloud of dust. Liso thinks it would have been impossible for the ambulance worker to have survived.
She’d left her shoes at the WTC so she could move faster. Several people offered her their shoes, but they were too big and would have made walking even more difficult. Eventually, a woman gave her her socks to wear.
Because traffic had come to a standstill in New York and the only vehicles moving were fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, Liso, caked in mud, walked as fast as she could away from the southern tip of Manhattan, the Wall Street financial area and what would be known as “Ground Zero.”
She figures she walked north perhaps 60 blocks, even passing a triage center that had been turned into a morgue. Bodies were covered with sheets. “It’s devastating to see something like that,” she said.
Along the way, people in restaurants offered them coffee or tea, but she was shaking so badly she would have spilled the hot liquid and burned herself. Churches offered bottled water. Someone gave her a sweater to wear. Pay phones and cell phones were useless because they couldn’t dial out.
She finally was directed to a bus that took her to a ferry across the Hudson River to New Jersey and then to the train station. A woman in the line for the ferry repeatedly dialed Liso’s home on her cell phone until Liso was able to reach her husband, Bob, 57, who’s retired, to tell him she was alive. She made a quick stop at a hospital to be checked out and got home in Middletown, N.J., about 40 miles from the World Trade Center, about 8 p.m.
Here in Harrison County, the Milltown Christian Church held a special service that afternoon for Liso, her family and the victims of the terrorist attacks. “I was moved by that,” Liso said. “It really helped my brothers and sisters. I will always remember them (the church) for that.”
Her siblings — Shirley Roggenkamp, Jack Cook, Pat Beasley and Don Cook — got into a car and drove all night, 15 hours straight, to be with their sister when she needed them the most.
Liso had left Milltown in 1982. She’d worked for Liberty Bank in Louisville and was a stockbroker for Prudential before she answered an ad in The Wall Street Journal and moved to New York.
Liso said she can’t get away from the events of 9-11. The holidays have been especially hard. She has trouble sleeping at night, and she’s thought about getting professional counseling.
“I guess it will be that way for a while,” she said. “It’s hard to describe my feelings. We lost so many young people, so many young people with young children.” She said the Port Authority actually lost more police officers, 30, than New York City did.
Liso went back to Ground Zero two weeks after the attacks and found it numbing. Pictures can’t accurately describe the devastation, she said. The silence was overwhelming, even as the firefighters and other workers continued their grim task. She said it felt like a sacred place, especially with so many victims still there, unfound. “Everyone was quiet, it was like a funeral,” she said.
“I’ve always worked in that building. To see it gone was incredible.”
Liso has great fondness for the folks back home, in both Crawford and Harrison counties. “The people there are really special; they’re the best,” she said. She’s gotten a bunch of phone calls and cards, many from people she hasn’t heard from in years.
“I want to thank the people for all their kindness and thoughtfulness, the cards and the calls. It’s really helped me a lot.”
Her address is 371 Dwight Road, Middletown, NJ 07748.