SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Connie Labetti, who walked down 99 floors of stairs and was among the last office workers to escape the World Trade Center alive on 9/11, told her captivating story members of the Fanwood-Scotch Plains Rotary Club during the organization's lunch meeting at the Stage House on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019.
Labetti worked at Aon on the 99th floor of the South Tower, the second World Trade Center building to be hit by terrorist-controlled airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001. She made it out of the building thanks to her boss, Ron Fazio, who ultimately did not survive; he was last seen helping people by holding the door for others.
My boss said: 'Hey look at that plane. It’s flying really low. That plane is coming for us. It’s going to hit us!' I could see American Airlines logo the tail. It was heading straight towards us. I said I’m going to die it’s coming for us. It hit Tower One.
You could feel the heat. My boss said we have to get out. He told people you have to get in the staircase. I went to get my sneakers. He held the door for me. He never got out. His body was never recovered.
In the stairwell, they announced: 'We are not evacuating Tower 2.' A man said: 'No, we are going going down.' We went down at an easy pace. I thought Tower 1 was collapsing into our building, but our Tower was hit.
I thought of my son who was 10, and of my dogs. Who would take care of them? Then I heard my (late) father's voice say to me: 'You’re not going to die in this building,' and my (late) uncle said: 'Straighten up, you will get out. Just one step at a time.'
It looked like a war zone. People were thanking me. They said, 'You shouted just keep walking you are not going to die.' I said it wasn't me; it was my father and uncle saying it. We didn’t know the destruction to the building. We got outside, and a woman police office screamed at us to run. I turned around and saw top floors in flames. I thought a bomb was dropped on us. Someone dragged me by the collar to safety
I worked in WTC for 15 years. It was unthinkable that they were both gone. We walked to Queens. Jules (a co-worker) and I were together. I wasn’t going to leave her. We walked over Brooklyn Bridge. People asked us if we wanted a drink. Jules' husband picked us up. I remember the embrace of her son. I thought of my son.
My son's school let them out early. He said : 'My mom was at the building.' They stayed behind to pray for me. Later, I took call from Ron's son, Robert. He told me that Ron never came home.
I think that day often. I had many guardian angels that day. I think of the client who called. I think of Ron and the couple who said: 'We are going down' and didn’t listen to the PA system. Then my father and uncle keeping us calm. I think of the guardian angels who kept me alive. That’s my story. I’ll live with it forever. I want people to remember the day. That’s why I tell the story.
Ron Fazio wasn’t supposed to be at work that day. His family set up the Hold the Door for Others Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on emotional support. It provides resources and opportunities to inspire people to grow in healthy ways when faced with adversity.
During the meeting, the Rotary Club took up a collection and raised over $325 for the foundation. Also at the meeting, Noussa Louis, marketing director for Advance Financial in Scotch Plains, became the newest member of the Rotary. A mother of twins and another child, Noussa was born in Egypt.
"Here is my home," she said. "It's where I belong."
Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards in all vocations, and helps build goodwill and peace in the world. Approximately 1.2 million Rotarians belong to more than 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.
Members of the Fanwood-Scotch Plains Rotary Club are part of a diverse group of professional leaders working to address various community and international service needs and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. The organization meets for lunch every Wednesday at the Stage House.
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