James and Mildred Meeker stared at the unrecognizable pile of metal and wood where their home of 23 years had stood.
A neighbor's truck rested upside down over what was once the bedroom. One axle from the Meekers' camper was visible on the roof of another neighbor's house. The front steps were barely discernible, lying upside down in a pile of broken bricks.
The Meekers consider themselves lucky, however: They lost everything they owned, but they survived being buried under the rubble of their two-story, three-bedroom home destroyed by a tornado Friday night.
"This stuff don't mean beans," James Meeker said. "Thank God we're alive!"
Throughout 13 counties in western Pennsylvania and in parts of Ohio, New York and Ontario, Canada, rescue workers today continued massive operations to clean up the destruction left by more than two dozen tornadoes. At least 91 persons have been reported killed by the twisters, 61 in Pennsylvania.
In this once thriving, working-class town just south of Erie, the devastation was particularly widespread. Some 115 homes were reduced to rubble, according to the estimates of the local Red Cross. Uniformed members of the National Guard have sealed off the town from nonresidents and taken up positions at the intersections to prevent looting and keep the roads clear for rescue vehicles.
"I was in Vietnam for a year with the Red Cross and I've never seen anything like this," said Red Cross coordinator Elaine Clyburn. "I worked a typhoon out of Guam and storms in Alaska. I've been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years and this is the worst I've ever seen."
National Guard Maj. Glenn Kennedy added, "This probably looks most like a battle zone without the combat that I have ever seen."
The destruction is almost unimaginable, even for those here who witnessed it. Huge maple trees were uprooted and hurled blocks away, leaving gaping craters. Entire roofs were sheared from houses and flung for yards. Tattered clothing hangs from broken tree branches. One house on State Street seems almost intact -- except it is sitting upside down on the ruins of what was the house next door.
Tonight, a town-wide curfew was still in effect, and a local high school here has been converted into an emergency service center where homeless residents can receive food vouchers, clothing, medical care and insurance information. Several insurance firms have set up temporary offices at the high school to aid victims.
Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteers were struggling with two new crises in the twister's aftermath: a contaminated water supply, making the town's tap water undrinkable, and the need for scores of tetanus shots for people who injure themselves while picking through the debris.
Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh (R), who toured Albion Saturday and met with some homeless residents at the high school, has asked President Reagan to declare 13 Pennsylvania counties disaster areas.
"The destruction in those counties is beyond belief," Thornburgh said today, "with widespread loss of life, entire communities obliterated and hundreds of people homeless. But once again I am amazed by the spirit, determination and resilience of Pennsylvanians in piecing their lives together after a major disaster of this type."
Piecing lives together was exactly what residents of Albion were attempting today.
"A lot of people are talking about not coming back," said Nancy Shaffer, who hid in a basement with her husband and two children when the twister struck. "This neighborhood was so beautiful -- people had their yards fixed up, beautiful trees -- and now it's all gone."
"I know I don't want to live here anymore," said Irene Alexander, whose wooden house on Pearl Street escaped much of the devastation. "The memory is too great, when you walk out and see all your neighbors gone.
"I was in total shock for the whole day," she said. "Homes destroyed, trailers blown away, neighbors totally gone. I just couldn't grasp it all."
John Patten, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said the death toll in this state could rise if some missing persons are found beneath the rubble. "The intensity of the storm and the degree of destruction is just incomprehensible," Patten said. "The total disintegration is just beyond belief."