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Stranded motorists revolt, leave Ritzville

SPOKANE - About 2,000 motorists trapped in Ritzville by six inches of gritty ash from Mount St. Helens revolted this morning and told sheriff Ron Snowden they were leaving, the sheriff said.

"They all made up their minds to leave," Snowden said. "They're just getting antsy. Nobody (emergency crews) has touched the roads. It's very hazardous. But, by law, I can't hold them anymore."

The sheriff has 10 patrol cars but "they are all sitting around town with burned up engines" caused by the ash clogging up the vehicles' air filters. His men were trying to coordinate the exodus on foot or in borrowed pickup trucks, he said.

The 2,000 motorists have been holed up in churches, schools or "wherever we could put them," Snowden said.

Meanwhile much of Eastern Washington remained paralyzed today although it was difficult to comprehend the problems in the sunny Tri-Cities.

Public transportation remained at a standstill and highways leading north from the Tri-Cities were blockaded because the gritty ash made driving hazardous

However, Highway 12 to Yakima was open as were highways east to Walla Walla and south to Oregon.

Hughes Airwest still is shut down at the Tri-Cities Airport where a decision was to be made late today whether to resume operations on Wednesday said Max Andrus, Airwest station manager.

"This stuff is highly corrosive to planes," Andrus said. He said when a Cascade plane which landed today reversed its engines it got "lost in the dust."

Cascade resumed operations today at both the Tri-Cities and Richland airports. Jim Morasch, Tri-Cities airport manager, said Cascade is serving all destinations but Spokane and Pullman where airports are closed.

Burlington Northern nearly was back to normal, a spokesman said, and Amtrak was to resume service late today westbound from Chicago.

Greyhound still was not operating in the Tri-Cities. A spokesman said the nearest bus service is from Hermiston on Walla Walla.

Mail to the Tri-Cities is running 16 hours late and outgoing mail is at a virtual standstill, said Pasco Postmaster Bill Helm. Helm said he can't find trucks for outgoing mail.

The public utilities in the Mid-Columbia region are worried about rain added to the fallen ash. Bob Blodgett, after talking with the other utilities, said the rain could wash the dust into insulators.

Blodgett, manager of the Benton County Public Utility District, said the ash causes electrical arcing "which sets the poles on fire."

Only essential workers are being sent to Hanford's remote .100 and 200 areas where they are being supplied. with face masks, even to ride a bus, one worker said.

The ash also is causing construction problems on the 1 and 4 nuclear plants at Hanford. Craftsmen working. for two major contractors, George A. Grant Inc., and Atkinson-Wright-Schuchart-Harbor were asked not to report to work at 1 and 4 today until 3 p.m.

A Grant spokesman said the ash had contaminated the concrete aggregate piles and chemists were rushing to determine what should be done.

Art Schindler, with the highway department in Pasco, said his crew , using flusher trucks and brooms, cleaned Highway 97 to Connell. Persons stranded there were brought to the Tri-Cities. But Highways 97 and 395 going north still are closed.

Both the Hanford and Kamiakin high school bands remain stranded. The Hanford concert choir and band is at Ellensburg and Kamiakin is in Cheney. The Kamiakin golf team mains at Ritzville.