LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — When a flash of light beamed from the arid New Mexico desert early on July 16, 1945, residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa felt windows shake and heard dishes fall. Some in the largely Catholic town fell to their knees and prayed.
The end of the world is here, they thought.
What villagers didn't know was that just before 5:30 a.m., scientists from the then-secret city of Los Alamos successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the nearby Trinity Site. Left in its place was a crater that stretched a half-mile wide and several feet deep.
Thursday marks 70 years since Trinity Test took place as part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret World War II nuclear development program. It comes as Tularosa residents say they were permanently affected by the test and want acknowledgement and compensation from the U.S. government.
Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders, said the aftermath caused rare forms of cancer for many of the 30,000 residents in the area surrounding Trinity. She said residents weren't told about the site's dangers and often picnicked there and took artifacts, including the radioactive green glass known as "trinitite."
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute are studying past and present cancer cases in New Mexico that might be related to the Trinity Test.
"It's a moral and ethical issue. It's about consent," said Cordova, a former Tularosa resident and cancer survivor. "We were never given the opportunity to do anything to protect ourselves, before or after."
Vera Burnett-Powell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice's Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program, did not immediately return a phone message and email from The Associated Press.
Cordova's father, Anastacio "Tacho" Cordova, was a 3-year-old Tularosa resident at the time of the blast and later had multiple forms of cancer. He died in 2013, and Cordova believes his illnesses were related to Trinity's aftermath.
During the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos scientists worked to develop the bomb that was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It involved three research and production facilities at Los Alamos; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington.
Retired physicist Duane Hughes, who gives tours at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, said the Trinity Test's history is important because it helped end World War II and set the stage for a Cold War arms race.
"I don't know if anyone thought it was a failure," Hughes said. "It really changed the history of the world."
The 70th anniversary also comes as writers with a TV drama series are tackling questions about the Trinity Test for its upcoming second season. The WGN America show "Manhattan" follows a group of Los Alamos scientists as they face moral quandaries involving the atomic bomb.
The show doesn't seek to preach but hopes to demonstrate the Manhattan Project's complexities, series creator Sam Shaw said.
Shaw didn't want to give away too many details of the upcoming season. But he said with the Trinity Test a focus, writers couldn't ignore the plight of residents from nearby towns like Tularosa.
"Some of the aspects of that story ... still exist on the horizon for us and for this show," he said. "But the story from the beginning, I think, has been as much about secrets and secrecy as it has been about a weapon."