Al Jazeera America: The first victims of the A-bomb were American

The explosion was seen nearly 200 miles away, the shock waves felt practically 100 miles away, and 70 years later, America’s first atomic bomb test – codenamed Trinity – still reverberates in the tiny towns and secluded hamlets that ring the edges of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Richard Lopez’s farm sits in a verdant valley at the feet of the Magdalena Mountains and 17 miles from ground zero. He believes radiation from the nuclear test permeated the area, contributing to the lymphoma he fought and won.

“We raised a lot of vegetables, we do a lot of that,” he said. “But once I got the cancer, I quit the vegetable part.”

His illness shattered his life. “I had co-pays that were sometimes $1,400 a day,” said Lopez. “Anything extra that the farm didn’t need, we sold. We sold our trucks, we sold some equipment, we sold extra cows we didn’t want to sell.”

And he’s not the only one.

There’s Rosemary Cordova, whose son Danny lost his left eye after undergoing four major brain surgeries for cancer; Henry Herrera, who saw the blast and must now make regular trips to Albuquerque for cancer treatment; Edna Hinkle, who submitted over $300,000 in claims to her insurance company for chemotherapy; and thousands of other New Mexicans known as “downwinders.”

New Mexicans and their families who lived downwind of the Trinity fallout zone say the U.S. government should be held accountable for poor health, high rates of cancer, and early death like downwinders at other nuclear sites in Utah, Nevada and Arizona. However, with little to no medical proof definitively linking their illnesses and the blast, a rapidly aging and dying population, and little support from Congress, the hope for compensation, or even an apology, may take another generation to materialize.

Read and watch more here.

Tristan Ahtone

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and serves as associate editor for tribal affairs at High Country News. He has reported for PBS NewsHour, National Native News, Wyoming Public Radio, NPR, Al Jazeera America, Indian Country Today, and National Geographic, and more. Tristan’s stories have won multiple honors, including investigative awards from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Gannett Foundation. He additionally was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University in 2017. He is president of the Native American Journalists Association.

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