The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 27, 2013

House honors Buffalo Creek's 'miracle baby'

CHARLESTON — Forty-one years ago Tuesday, a tidal wave of water from a collapsed coal mine dam swept over a remote hollow in Logan County, washing out bridges, roads and homes in a nightmarish scant minutes.

By the time the waters receded, there were a known 125 people dead in the grimy aftermath up and down Buffalo Creek Hollow.

Another 1,100 suffered non-fatal injuries, and 4,000 residents were left homeless. The massive flood through the rain-swollen Buffalo Creek wiped out 502 permanent homes and 44 mobile ones, while 943 others were damaged heavily and 1,000 vehicles were destroyed.

All told, the property damage ran up a $50 million bill.

The House of Delegates paid tribute to the victims in a special ceremony Tuesday, honoring Janice Albright, a cousin of the so-called “Miracle Baby,” Kerry Albright.

With one small leg protruding from the muck, the 9-month-old infant lay face down. His mother, Sylvia, and older brother Steven, fled in terror minutes earlier to avoid the tsunami, prompted by the failure of the Pittston Coal Co. slurry impoundment.

While fleeing the invading wall of water, Sylvia Albright sought to hurl the infant to higher ground. Sylvia and Steven never made it to safety.

As the dense mud was scraped from the child, he was gasping for air, but survived and not only finished high school but attended Marshall University as a theater major and launched a two-decades career in that arena that has thrust him before audiences globally. The “Miracle Baby” now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Until his father was able to rebuild on the site of his old homestead, Kerry lived with him in a trailer provided to him and other survivors.

In a special proclamation, presented by House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, to Janice Albright, the House said the miraculous survival of Kerry Albright provided his father “a purpose in life and helped him to cope with the devastating losses he had suffered.”

As a result, the proclamation said, “Robert devoted himself to nurturing the fragile young life who had been spared from the flood.

In other action, the House advanced to a vote Wednesday, without any amendments, a measure by Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, allowing motorcycles in West Virginia to be equipped with side lights to better identify them at night.

Other states permit the use of LED or regular lights to augment the bikes, but once the riders cross the West Virginia border, they must unhook them.

Staggers says the lights are helpful, particularly on the back country roads of the state.

“If you see one headlight coming at you, you’re not sure if that is someone with one headlight blown out, or if it’s a motorcycle,” she said.

By allowing the side lights, there is no question that it is a bike, rather than a “one-eyed jack” barreling down the road.

Staggers doesn’t own a motorcycle, but does ride on occasion on the back end of one.

The bill ran through her Roads and Transportation Committee at the request of Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley.

“It’s a safety issue,” Staggers said. “It makes it safer for the motorcyclists, and safer for the drivers. Another common sense-type bill.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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