Rescue & Recovery: In Their Own Voices With Nancy Seliga

  • February 24, 2023

Nancy Seliga’s career with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey began with her assignment to the World Trade Department’s real estate division in 1969, while the World Trade Center was still under construction. Over the course of her nearly 40-year career with the Port Authority, Nancy survived both the February 26, 1993, bombing and September 11, 2001 attack. Following February 26th, she worked to move tenants back into their offices and ensure they felt comfortable returning to work. On September 11th, Nancy was general manager of 1 World Trade Center. In the weeks following the attacks, her official role was to notify family members of recovered remains, reunite survivors with items found in the debris, help co-workers get back to work in other positions, and meet with state and federal agencies.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the 1993 bombing, Nancy’s account from 2009 highlights one of the many stories of individuals who played an integral role at the World Trade Center in the days and weeks that followed both attacks.

Blue and gold "Welcome Back" mug; Nancy Seliga's building ID; Port Authority safety vest; Seliga's damaged Mastercard, returned to her after 9/11

Clockwise from top left: "Welcome Back" mugs gifted to employees by the Port Authority following the 1993 bombing; Nancy Seliga's ID card, returned to her by NYPD after 9/11; Port Authority safety vest; Nancy Seliga's MasterCard, damaged on 9/11. 

When did you start working at the World Trade Center? 
I was an employee of the Port Authority for 38 and a half years. When I started in July of 1969 the World Trade Center was under construction. I was hired as a junior stenographer and assigned to the World Trade Department, which I never left. I worked for people in the real estate division, who were working with prospective tenants. In January of 1970, I was promoted to secretary. One of the men I worked for was asked to lead the information center at the World Trade Center, and I went to work with him. In March of 1971, we moved to the 33rd floor of 1 World Trade Center.

When we moved into 1 World Trade Center, it was built, but the interior was still being finished. The original intent was that all floors would be full-floor tenants. It was geared to importers and exporters because a certain portion of their business had to be devoted to world trade in order to meet the criteria to move in. The entire complex was dedicated in 1973. It was a great place to work. When the towers were done, I was so proud of the fact that I worked in them. From 1969 to 1981, I climbed up the clerical ranks, went to college on weeknights and on the weekends and then entered and climbed up the management ranks. Each tenant had a team of two people, one was the real estate liaison, handling all aspects of their lease, and the other was the liaison for all issues related to World Trade Center operations — maintenance, communications, among other things. I was one of the operations liaisons for the complex.

Where were you on the day of each attack?
On February 26,1993, I was on the 35th floor of 1 World Trade. At 12:18 p.m., when the bomb went off, the building shook. We all thought it was a transformer. Each floor had a fire safety team and our floor warden told everyone to start going down the stairs, which we did. I didn’t know it at the time, but the smell in the stairwell was the tires burning. It was horrible. I’m claustrophobic, so I got down to the 20th floor before I had to get out of the stairwell. I went into a conference room, which was filled with Port Authority and other personnel, and waited until the fire department came and took us down the stairs. When I got downstairs, everyone was covered in black soot. I was directed to the plaza, and I found someone I knew. He told me it was a bomb. I asked if he was sure and he said, “I was in Vietnam, I know that smell.” Afterwards, a lot of people went home, but I was in tenant services, and I had a job to do. I left that night at about 10:30 p.m.

An hour and a half before this happened, I had been meeting with a tenant in 2 World Trade Center, who had certain issues that needed to be addressed. From his office, I took the elevators down to the B2 level in 2 World Trade Center and walked across the parking lot into B2 of 1 World Trade, the exact spot where the bomb detonated. Many people have asked me if I saw a van there and I just don’t remember.

On 9/11, I was general property manager of 1 World Trade Center. I was on the 21st floor and I arrived to work at 7 a.m. I had a staff meeting every Tuesday at 8:30. I was sitting in the conference room waiting for everyone and when the building was hit, I just knew it was a plane. We were on the north side of the floor and as we looked out the window and we saw all this glass coming down. My secretary at the time, who was also there on February 26th of 1993, hadn’t even taken off her sneakers yet and she just took off. She made it down the stairs without passing anybody. I was the civilian incident liaison, so I knew I had to get down to the fire command center right away. I grabbed my radio and ID and went downstairs. I got down to the 11th floor and the claustrophobia kicked in. I got off at the 11th floor with several other people I worked with, and I had to catch my breath. I said, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” My coworkers said, “Just take your time.” I said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this, let’s keep going.”  

I got down to the lobby and I had no idea where the plane had come in, nor did I know that 2 World Trade Center had been hit. When the Chief Operating Officer for the Port Authority saw me, he told me I had to get out. After going back and forth with him about my responsibility, I went to the hotel, and attempted to set up a command center in the lobby until an NYPD officer told us to leave. We were on the corner of West Street and Thames, when suddenly, there was a loud roar and a woman standing there yelled, “It’s a third plane.” Everyone started to run. It was the 2 World Trade Center starting to come down. As we ran, I lost everyone I was with except for my friend, Bob. You couldn’t see anything. We just kept walking until we got to Chinatown. That’s when someone told us that the towers were gone, and we turned around and saw all the dust and debris in the air. Bob had a doctor in Chinatown, so we went there to clean all the dust from our faces. Then we walked to the Holland Tunnel.

What role did you play in the rescue and recovery efforts after each attack?
: The next day, I was back at work. The tenants wanted to go back. We worked a lot of hours, a lot of overtime. We worked with the restoration company to make sure we got everything cleaned as quickly as we possibly could. We coordinated all the move-ins, starting with Fuji Bank and New York State. By the sixth week, we put together a move back team and they’d start at 10 o’clock at night. We worked very closely with our tenants. Part of the move back nights were putting a mug on everyone’s desk that said, "Welcome Back." We tried to make it as comforting as possible because people were afraid.   

9/11: On September 12th, I went to my son’s house because I had to print the most up to date list of the tenants. That list included the tenant’s name, the contact name, phone number, office phone, cell phone, home phone, everything. The official role I had was part of a team to notify the World Trade Department families when someone was identified. There were about six of us that worked and rotated. We worked, at minimum, 12-hour shifts. I was getting calls from families who were missing someone and people I worked with asking, “What can I do, when can I get back to work?”

In the months following 9/11, two Port Authority detectives were assigned to Fresh Kills to gather items that were either part of the WTC itself or belonging to the Port Authority people who survived. I was the signatory for those items. When I would get them, if I could send them to the owner, I would. If I couldn’t find them, I kept them. (Nancy has since donated, to the Museum, any Items that could not be reunited with their owners.)

Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it happened in another life. Sometimes it feels like it happened to somebody else. The aftereffects never go away. These stories need to be told. These were innocent people. 


Nancy met her husband, Chuck Seliga, during her time at the Port Authority. On 9/11, Chuck was the President and CEO of Stewart Airport in upstate New York, where several planes bound for New York City airports were diverted. In 2009, Chuck recalled meeting Nancy early on in their careers working in the World Trade Center.

"She was working, I think at the World Trade Institute at the time, which was on a different floor from my office. There was a conference dinner being held uptown that my boss was attending. While I was there setting up, she was also there setting up for someone else. When everyone else went to dinner, the two of us weren’t invited, so I said, ‘Are you hungry?’ and we went out to dinner. I didn’t see her [again] until six months later. We ran into each other and we went to dinner. Even though we worked in the same building, on different floors, we met at that conference uptown.”

Chuck Seliga passed away on May 20, 2022 at his home in Monroe, NY. He was 79 years old. He and Nancy had been married for more than 40 years.

Compiled by Caitlyn Best, Government and Community Affairs Coordinator 

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