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Tri-Citians escape from 'strange planet'

Roy and Lillian Grush were tired of being "holed up" in a Ritzville hotel and decided Tuesday to make a dash for freedom to escape six inches of gritty ash from Mount St. Helens.

They were weary of ash-covered streets, fields, cars and people and in spite of the warning that anyone crossing Highway 395 would be ticketed, they took. the back roads through Kahlotus and headed home.

"It was awful in Ritzville," said Mrs. Grush, a teacher at Christ the King School, Richland.

They were enroute to the Tri-Cities after spending a few days in Montana and were midway between Spokane and Ritzville Sunday when the sky darkened, lightning flashed and dust began covering their windshield.

"We thought a terrible storm was coming, but we turned on the radio and found out about the mountain. It was black and we couldn't see a thing.. .my husband looked out his window, I looked out mine and somehow we found the Ritzville turnoff.

"We met another couple and the four of us shared the last available hotel room. The hotels and motels were jammed, people were sleeping everywhere, the restaurants and grocery stores were running out of food and everywhere you looked people were moving around with masks over their faces.. .it was eerie, " she said.

"We walked to the grocery store Monday because restaurants closed early and walking back I tripped over a curb that was all covered with the volcanic ash.. .it was like living on a strange planet, like nothing we've ever, experienced before."

By Tuesday they decided they'd had enough and along with about 2,000 other motorists trapped in Ritzville since the mountain erupted Sunday, they left.

"The first 10 miles were bad with the ash swirling around our car, but the closer to the Tri-Cities we got the better it was."

"It was like heaven arriving was hard to believe that just a few miles away is another world, covered with ash."