Port Authority Widows Say Twin Towers Fund Has Left Them Out

Wading through ankle-deep water, World Trade Center building managers like Francis Riccardelli and Eugene Raggio guided those inside away from the crumbling walls —  and outside to safety.

They directed firefighters and emergency workers on the scene. They'd been there for the 1993 bombing and knew every corner of the twin skyscrapers.

Their stories of rescue — and those of the 10 other Port Authority building managers and supervisors who stayed in while most were running out  have gone largely untold and unrecognized. Their families haven't qualified for the city's Twin Towers Fund for emergency workers, even though they worked alongside firemen and police to save lives.

Some of their widows believe it comes down to the clothes on their backs.

"They weren't wearing a uniform," said Theresa Riccardelli, 39, Francis' widow. "They're being overlooked. They were heroes too. Everybody should be hailed as heroes here, including these Port Authority men."

Her husband, who was 40, oversaw the more than 300 elevators and escalators in the World Trade Center complex  where he'd worked for 17 years. Because his office was on the 35th floor of 2 World Trade, he could have escaped to safety. But, he didn't. Neither did the other 11 men in charge of the Twin Towers.

"These operations guys didn't hesitate," said Riccardelli, now left to raise the couple's five young children alone in Westwood, N.J. "They were crucial. They knew the buildings. The firemen needed them."

She and the other widows are upset that their husbands' efforts haven't been acknowledged  and that their families have been left out of city compensation like the Twin Towers Fund.

"It's the recognition that's important to me, but I've also got five kids," Riccardelli said. "My husband was clearly a rescue worker. The Twin Towers Fund is for rescue workers."

Both she and Francine Raggio, Eugene's widow, have written letters to Mayor Rudy Giuliani's deputy counsel Larry Levy, who is in charge of the fund. Their letters, they say, have gone unanswered.

"It's very, very frustrating," said Raggio, 54, of Staten Island, N.Y. "If it wasn't for my husband and the other World Trade people, all those other people wouldn't have got out. Everybody knows what these 12 men did. They know they ran from place to place that day, evacuating."

Levy did not return calls from Fox News seeking comment.

Raggio's 55-year-old husband, who worked 20 of his 38 Port Authority years for the World Trade complex, was an operations supervisor in charge of emergencies. Though he was certified in fire and safety procedures, he didn't have an official badge or uniform.

"The Twin Towers Fund should have been called a fire and police fund," she said. "I would like the city and the mayor to recognize them, just like the firemen."

Raggio is also angry the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hasn't been more proactive in reaching out to the families or acknowledging the heroic efforts of some of their employees.

Port Authority spokesman Dan Bledsoe said he couldn't speak for the city about the Twin Towers Fund. But the loved ones of the Port Authority victims are being compensated, he said.

"We are trying to do whatever we can to try to help out the families of Port Authority employees who were lost in the attacks," he said. Of the 2,000 P.A. workers in the World Trade complex, 75 died Sept. 11.

Families are being paid the full salary of the workers until the end of this year, according to Bledsoe. Surviving spouses are receiving life insurance up to three times the base salary, depending on hire dates, plus funeral costs up to $15,000 and accidental death benefits, he said. Dependents will continue to be covered under the health insurance plan until they are in the workforce.

Other than the salary paychecks, Bledsoe could not say whether there was a backlog in getting those benefits to the families or how many of them had already received the money they're due.

The Port Authority also established a World Trade Center Memorial Fund that has accumulated $2.7 million in donations, according to Bledsoe. But none of those contributions have been sent out yet.

"We're still in the process of trying to determine the criteria to disperse these monies," Bledsoe said. "I think you’ll see those monies going toward family members who have lost people."

In the meantime, the widows' frustration grows. They find solace in letters and phone calls from those who lived to tell what their husbands did.

Raggio cherishes one letter in particular, from a former co-worker of Gene's. She has looked at it over and over again.

"You probably heard a thousand times that Gene was a hero on Sept. 11," the letter reads. "To me, he was a superhero. He knew that others were in danger and that he could help them escape. Families all over the world were spared the pain and suffering of tragic loss because Gene was there to get their loved ones out."