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Talcum powder odyssey stuns, delights stranded travelers

It's an all-gray world in the Mount St. Helens' ash zone north of Richland. Driving on Highway 240 to Vantage is like driving on a road covered with talcum powder, with cars kicking up huge rooster tails of dust.

Meeting an oncoming car brings one to a stop as the dust obliterates the rest of the world.

Four people who spent 24 hours at Vantage and made it out today said it's an experience they never want to try again.

"The volcanic dust is everywhere, on your shoes, hands, clothes, and your hair and after a while you stop brushing it off - you just don't care," said Joe Loran of Tacoma, a Washington State University student, who was stranded at Vantage.

Loran and his parents, Tom and Luella Loran, had tried to make it out of Vantage but they got only as far as Desert Aire before the dust clogged their car's engine.

Along the way they picked up another stranded motorist, Becky Woehler of Kennewick.

A truck driver heading in the opposite direction stopped and picked them up dropping them off at Halbert's store at Desert Aire.

The Lorans slept Monday at the Golden Harvest Cafe in Vantage while Miss Woehler was bused, along with other stranded people to the old Wanapum school.

"They didn't have any cots but gave us blankets," Miss Woehler said. The people tried to sleep on concrete floors.

This morning the group was taken back to Vantage to their vehicles and the townspeople along the way came out to take their pictures. "I guess we were celebrities," Miss Woehler said.

Other people slept in the aisles of the Vantage grocery store.

"A couple of men were sleeping on the floor using rolls of paper towels as pillows," young Loran said.

Many people stranded were Central Washington University students and spent much of the night Monday partying, Miss Woehler said.

Young Loran struck up a conversation with three elderly women in a booth at the Golden Harvest Cafe. "They seemed delighted to be part of this adventure, he said.

People with stick shift transmissions reported the dust would collect, making it difficult to shift gears.

Miss Woehler said she met a truck driver from California who was en route to Wenatchee when the dust fell.' "He was delighted to be there and could hardly wait to get back to California to tell his friends about his experiences," she said.

That seemed to be the feeling of most, who grew tired and irritable, but realized it probably was a once in a life time adventure.