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The people, their stories

For Art Blum, the day began prosaically enough. He was visiting a relative in a Tacoma hospital.

He had traveled to the West Coast alone for the visit. On Sunday, he went to church, had breakfast . and about noon left from Seattle on Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass.

"As I approached North Bend, the yellow lights telling you to tune a information radio frequency were blinking. I tuned in and got the tail end of a report that 1-90 was closed, but I didn't know why."

He kept going and, finally, from a Seattle station learned of the eruption "but I didn't know what that meant."

A patrolman at an exit near the pass was putting up barricades but told Blum he could continue if he wanted.

"Not realizing what I was getting into, I went on," Blum said.

Phone lines were jammed when he tried to call at the top of the pass, so he drove on. At Cle Elum, big dump trucks barricaded the highway. He took an off-ramp and then an on-ramp and was back on the freeway to Ellensburg.

"About Cle Elum I began running into ash. It swirled up behind me. Before Ellensburg, it began to get very dark."

Near Ellensburg, he stopped at an injury accident - a pickup truck pulling a trailer had collided with a mobile home - and then. Blum drove on.

He missed the Ellensburg exit - he couldn't see it in the ashfall and darkness - so continued to Vantage.

"I had windshield wipers on, headIights on, and I was going 30 miles an hour. It just got worse and worse. It was pitch black and the ash was several inches deep. "

He decided Vantage was no place to stop, so he edged onto the Vantage bridge across the Columbia River. His front tires were throwing so much ash onto his windshield that three times he stopped on the bridge to clean the windshield.

"I was scared someone would hit me from behind. But I never saw anyone out there. I was all alone."

Across the bridge, a trooper's blue emergency light was flashing. When Blum cracked open his window, the trooper told him he'd better go on.

Ash was falling "thick and hard" but he got to Desert Air. In the distance, he could see light on the horizon! He knew he had made it. From the Yakima entrance to Hanford on to the Tri-Cities the road was good, he said.

* *

Randy Bjur, band director at Kamiakin High School, had taken the band to the Spokane Lilac Festival parade. They were housed at Eastern Washington University in Cheney and preparing to return home that Sunday.

Two of their three buses had mechanical failures. While repairs were made, the group sat on the buses for two hours.

They had known the mountain erupted, Bjur said, but "it never crossed our minds it would incapacitate us. "

"It got dark and the ash started to fall. We decided to unload as soon as possible and rushed back Into the dorms," Bjur said.

The next day the State Patrol said the roads were closed.

"EWU opened the gym so we could exercise. We never left the dorms or gym for the four days we were there. ''

It cost the high school $650 a day to keep that many people at EWU, Bjur said. But federal emergency funds paid the bill.

"For the first couple of days, it was an exciting adventure, but then it was getting old being cooped up. "

Finally, rains fell settling the dust a little and on Thursday they drove to Colfax, Dayton and home.

"We got through it all right. Except another bus broke down on the way home," Bjur said. .

* * *

Tony Millward, 28, his wife, Renee, and three young children, were on a weekend visit to his parents in Warden.

The Millwards and his parents had gone to church, where about 10:30 a.m. someone mentioned that Mount St. Helens had erupted.

"But we weren't aware . of the consequences we'd suffer," he said.

Soon what looked like a dark hail storm approached and by 11 a.m., "beautiful, puffy gray clouds were swirling overhead. "

About an hour later, the ash started to fall. Church let out and people fled to their homes, Millward said.

"We rushed to my parents' home but I still didn't sense danger," Millward recalled. "Darkness fell on us like the page of a book - we watched as the horizon dimmed. It was mid-day and it was black."

That's when he started getting afraid. His sister lives on a farm eight miles north of Warden but he couldn't reach her because of jammed phone lines.

"She wasn't where she could be comforted by us - but she was with her own family. She really thought she would be buried in ash."

Millward that afternoon tried to drive to his sister's farm but roadblocks prevented it. He said he would have ruined his car driving through the ash if police hadn't turned them around.

By 10:30 the next morning, the grocery store in Warden was "cleaned out" of milk and bread. Because the Millwards are Mormons, they had plenty of stored food "but others didn't and they suffered."

Warden was especially hard hit by the ash and it took Millward and his parents the next three days to clean it off the house and lawn.

"Thursday we left, but I felt guilty doing so knowing the Tri-Cities was fine but I had to leave them with all that," Millward said.

"Many of us here think we live in an area where there's nothing to hurt us. But this shows that no matter where you live you are never completely safe from nature or an act of God."

* * *

English, an engineer with Battelle-Northwest, was climbing Mount Hood with about 50 others and remembers getting to the top of Hood and looking over at a then quiet Mount St. Helens.

"Helens was all black and yet Mount Adams and Mount Rainier were snow-capped and clearly visible. I started down' Mount Hood to get out of the wind when some others on top began shouting that Helens was erupting.

"We ran back to the top and

watched as black billowing smoke came out the top with lightning bolts crashing through the clouds. We stayed for several minutes and nobody took his eyes off St. Helens."

* * *

Klundt, a Kennewick police department employee, had Army Reserve duty in Spokane the weekend of the eruption.

"About noon that Sunday we heard the mountain had erupted and about 1:30 we left Spokane for the Tri-Cities not expecting any problems.

"But within miles of Spokane, visibility began getting bad and I was worried about an accident. About nine miles north of Sprague a state trooper stopped a line of cars and bumper-to-bumper, he led us into Sprague. .

"Each car followed the taillights of the car ahead. It was raining ash, cars were stalled, it was pitch black. It was terrifying all the way."

In Sprague, Klundt parked his car near a gas station where he shaved and brushed his teeth while waiting three days for Highway 395 to open.

Klundt couldn't reach his wife by phone, but finally got his dad in Pasco. "He said it was beautiful at home and couldn't comprehend what it was like in Sprague. "

After two days a semi-truck brought in food, which was quickly bought by townspeople and the estimated 150 outsiders stranded there.

"I felt abandoned in Sprague.. The governor talked of sending a train for us and we. all wondered why she (then Gov. Dixie Ray) didn't just send one and stop talking... we all felt that nobody gave a damn about us in Sprague.

"It was hot and humid and muggy. There weren't enough face masks for everybody. The city water reservoir was low and all I wanted to do is get out of there. "

The trip home took hours, with stops every 10 miles to clean out his car's air filter.

"The closer we got to home the better it looked. I'll never forget that day, but I learned something from it. . .now when I get out of town I'm much better prepared. When I went to Army Reserve duty this year I took the camper, extra food and clothes and even the fishing pole... you just never know."

* * *

The Ludwigs had their fishing poles but they and the dozens of other people stranded at the Badger Lake Resort didn't get to use them.

Mrs. Ludwig says what was intended to be. a weekend outing turned into a frightening five days stuck in a camp trailer with an 8-year-old boy.

"We had the boat on the lake that morning when it suddenly became quiet. The clouds rolled overhead, the fish stopped biting and I told my husband jokingly that it reminded me of being in the eye of a hurricane," she said.

"It poured ash all that Sunday night and Monday. The only color in the whole world seemed to be ash gray. We couldn't see any birds or roads or people ... it was terrifying and when it was over I felt like a survivor .

"I can remember driving into Pasco and seeing people playing golf and I remember how angry I was... didn't they know we'd been through a holocaust?"