Librarian Linda Tufaro named Citizen of the Year

Published 2:42 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A native Mississippian kept attendees of the Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet on the edges of their seats with her account of her escape from the second of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Pamela Stennis Wilson, a Biloxi native, told her tale of survival to attendees of the banquet, prior to the Chamber’s announcement of its selections of the citizen, volunteer and civic club of the year.

Wilson said she was on the 59th floor of the second World Trade Tower when she heard what sounded like a plane passing by before it struck the first tower. She said she looked outside and could only see what looked like paper flying everywhere.

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“It was like a bizarre ticker tape parade,” Wilson said.

The sights she saw outside her window prompted her to get out of the building. As she headed towards the building exit from the 59th floor, she decided to take the stairs to avoid being stuck in an elevator. By the time she reached the 38th floor, another person told her that the building she was in was secure, but she didn’t believe it and proceeded on down the stairs.

WIlson said she ended up going down the 59 flights of stairs in less than 17 minutes. She said she knows this because she reached the ground floor before the second plane struck her building. She said she was still in the building when the plane struck, and remembers seeing the building sway and cracks form in the ceiling before the huge fire engulfed the building, sucking out all of the oxygen. She recalled ducking behind cover and a fireball singeing her hair during two consecutive explosions.

As she was evacuating the World Trade Center, she said she was directed to exit through building five. On the way there, she came across a couple of elderly women, whom she assisted in leaving the Trade Center. Wilson recalls seeing debris from the buildings and from the plane, including plane seats, along with “chunks of stuff I did not want to identify” as she left the building.

Wilson said she headed down the street after contacting family members to let them know she was all right and recalled seeing a large black cloud of debris suddenly engulf the street and all the people along it. She discovered through newscasts she listened to on a portable radio she had with her that the black debris cloud was from the collapse of her building.

Wilson said that when she arrived home, she avoided taking the elevator to her apartment and  instead climbed the five flights of stairs to get there.

The audience gave Wilson a round of applause at the end of her story.

Then it was time to announce this year’s winners.

— Linda Tufaro was selected as this year’s Citizen of the Year for her efforts and work at Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library.

— Pearl River County Historical Society was named Civic Club of the Year for collecting and preserving historical information about the county.

— Friends of Boley was named Volunteer Organization of the Year for cleaning and maintaining Hobolochitto Creek.