In this riverside hamlet of 300, Thanksgiving 1985 was tinged with bitter loss and modest hopes.
With their homes and businesses destroyed three weeks ago in the worst flooding ever experienced by the state, the citizens of Albright gave thanks today for the only thing many of them have left: each other.
"We still have ourselves," said Mayor Karl Vaughan, whose house and property were swept away by the Cheat River on Nov. 5. "We're eating and drinking and working. This is what there is to be thankful for -- people making a go at it."
As a steady rain drenched the Cheat River Valley in a scene eerily reminiscent of the violent waters that washed away a way of life for many, Vaughan and his townspeople gathered today in Albright's fire hall, where the Red Cross served Thanksgiving dinner on a grand scale.
Cardboard pilgrims on the wall bearing corn and cranberries lent the hall a festive air, and were an improvement over the three feet of mud the flood had deposited on the floor.
Outside the fire hall, Albright was a pitiful landscape of destruction. Only 22 of the town's 132 houses were left standing. State officials said more than 2,500 West Virginians remained homeless on Thanksgiving Day. At least 38 people died in the floods, which caused an estimated $650 million to $1 billion in damage. Red Cross volunteers who have crisscrossed West Virginia since it was ravaged in the floods say Albright is the worst-hit town they have seen.
Today was the fifth straight day of rain for the area and the Cheat River raged past Albright, muddy and awash with debris. The water ran through the footings of the power plant bridge, washed away three weeks ago, and under the only other bridge spanning the Cheat River here.
Many people in surrounding towns whom the Red Cross had hoped would come for dinner stayed at home, apparently fearing another evacuation. Much of the food was not eaten and some dinners were sent to surrounding communities in thermal cases to keep them hot.
The National Weather Service today issued flood warnings for several river valleys in the eastern part of the state.
In the valleys west of here, several major rivers were rising up their banks. Minor flooding was reported there. Many here reminded each other about a prediction in the Farmer's Almanac of another flood in early December. The laughter was nervous.
"We've been calling this the unending disaster," said Gary Miller, head of the Red Cross relief effort in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. "Once we think we've got things under control, it just gets out of hand again."
Agnes Weaver, 58, whose daughter's home was swept a half-mile downstream in the flood, said, "Some of us are afraid it might happen again. Some are rebuilding, but others are just shocked and heartbroke, and they're not coming back."
Mayor Vaughan said the damage Albright suffered -- its flattened homes, toppled churches and empty lots where service stations and general stores once stood -- reminds him of another time.
As an army engineer, Vaughan was in Hiroshima in October 1945.
"Albright looks like a ghost town," said Ray Karl Metheny, 86, a retired coal miner who grew up here.
Albright's citizens, many elderly and most thankful simply for their lives, seemed to enjoy the camaraderie and the traditional feast.
The Red Cross prepared 160 turkeys, 400 pounds of stuffing and all the trimmings. Volunteers, some of whom have worked here for three weeks or longer, dished it up cheerily. One volunteer led a Lord's Prayer that echoed in the hall's high ceilings, competing with the relentless pounding of the rain.
Albright's economy is sustained by a steam power plant on the Cheat River and by a coal cleaning plant nearby. The jobs there are intact, so most seem sure that the town will rebuild itself gradually.
Last Sunday, the minister of a Methodist church that disappeared in the flood, leaving only the altar and cross, asked his congregation if it wanted to rebuild or attend another church in the area. The decision was immediate: rebuild.
"The river destroyed this town and the river will build it back up," said Mike Peaslee, 29, a county magistrate who has lived here all his life. "People will come here from Ohio, New York and Michigan for the white water . . . . The power plant will be here. We'll make it."
Peaslee said many of the elderly people in Albright would not return to rebuild their houses, but would be replaced by younger people seeking cheap land and new opportunities.
Peaslee has already cleared his collapsed house from his land and plans to start laying a new foundation next week -- despite his wife's plea that they move to higher ground.
"It's home," he said with a shrug.