An unknown blast shook the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, unsettling the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa. Residents there didn't learn that scientists from the then-secret city of Los Alamos had successfully detonated the first atomic bomb at the nearby Trinity Site until after the US announced it had dropped the weapon on Japan a month later, helping end World War II. "It was a source of pride," says Tina Cordova, a former Tularosa resident whose father was 3 at the time of the test. However, it became a source of angst after many residents developed cancer and blamed it for their health problems. Today marks the 70th anniversary of the test that took place as part of the Manhattan Project. But while the state holds commemorative events, Tularosa residents press for federal compensation.
Most residents back then lacked phones and radios, so they believed Army officials who said it was just an ammunition explosion, despite the raining ash. Cordova says residents weren't told about the dangers and often picnicked at the test site and took artifacts, including radioactive green glass. She says the aftermath caused rare forms of cancer for many of the 30,000 people living in the area, including her own dad, who died in 2013; she believes his illnesses were related to the test's aftermath. National Cancer Institute researchers are studying past and present cancer cases in New Mexico that may be related. "It's not about anti-nuclear protests," says Cordova, a cancer survivor. "We want recognition from the US government that ... they came here and did this test. And that they walked away and left us for 70 years to deal with it on our own." (Read more atomic bomb stories.)