Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18, 1980, Thirty Years Ago Today, Mt. St. Helens Erupted

You are looking at Mount St. Helens in the State of Washington in October of 1998, about 2 months before I began my exile in the Great State of Texas.

Right now, at 10:36 am, Central Time, in Texas, it is almost precisely 30 years, to the minute, since I was peacefully soaking my aching back in a hot tub of water when I heard 5 successive loud booms. May 18, 1980.

About 15 minutes later I learned the loud booms were due to Mount Saint Helens, after weeks of having the Pacific Northwest on edge with incessant rumbling, exploding in one of the biggest volcanic explosions in history.

Trust me, it was an interesting time to live in the Northwest. Things like "ash masks" become a necessary accoutrement.

About 4 months after the Big Bang I made my first attempt to see Mt. St. Helens in its post blow-up mode. Access was very restricted. If I remember right you could not get closer than 50 miles. That attempt, it was cloudy. I did not see the mountain.

It would be years later, in 1990 or 91 that I finally saw Mt. St. Helens up close. A logging road, from the north, had been expanded into the blast zone, with rudimentary visitor services. I went with a small group of 4, loaded with a big picnic.

You exited the main highway, on to a logging road, which twisted and turned through an old growth forest of big trees. And then, suddenly, a turn in the road brought the BLAST ZONE into view. I'd never seen anything like it. Trees blown down like matchsticks. Utter devastation. At that point in time Mother Nature had yet to go, much, into recovery mode.

The access at that time ended at an overlook where you could see into the volcano and look down on the remnants of Spirit Lake, that being where Harry Truman was last seen.

Go to my Washington Blog for more about Harry Truman, including a very good video with a song called "Your Spirit Lives On" about Harry and the Mountain.

That is the view of Spirit Lake we are looking at in the picture.

It would be about 8 more years before I saw Mt. St. Helens, again, up close. By then the area had been turned into a National Monument. A feat of highway engineering had built a road in from the west side. 5 very well done Visitor's Centers had been built, along with a lot of other amenities. Mt. St. Helens had become a major tourist attraction.

The final Visitor's Center is at the location where David Johnston radioed, "Vancouver, this is it," from his location on Coldwater Ridge. This is the best of the Visitor's Centers, designed to blend into the landscape. It is very close to the volcano.

Mt. St. Helens was the deadliest, most economically destructive volcanic event in American history. 57 people were killed, 47 bridges, 250 homes, 185 miles of highway and 15 miles of railway were destroyed.

A couple days ago I blogged on my Washington Blog about how it seemed impossible that it could be 30 years since Mt. St. Helens blew her top. On that day had you told me that 30 years later I would be doing this thing called blogging about that day, and doing so from Texas, I would not have been able to imagine what could cause such a scenario.

Below is a YouTube video of Dan Rather and CBS news covering the Mt. St. Helens disaster a few days after the eruption. Looking at how dated this video is, it makes 30 years easier to believe....


Zelda del West said...

I remember it well. Let's just hope Rainier isn't the next to go.

twister said...

I wonder if Harry had time to put on his boots? I wonder, if in the seconds following the mountain's booming pronouncements of eruption, Harry had a moment to doubt his decision to stay? Eighty four years old and in the final seconds of his life did he step out side and grin wildly at the pyroclastic flow racing down the mountainside at two hundred miles an hour, snapping trees like toothpicks. The mountain is part of me, he is known to have said. And now, he is part of it.

Durango said...

Zelda, have you seen the Volcanic Eruption Evacuation Route signs that are now in place for Mount Rainier? First one I saw was between Tacoma and Puyallup.

Durango said...

Twister, it was Sunday morning, Harry could easily have still been in bed, nursing a hangover from the previous night's whiskey. David Johnston was closer and he was able to radio out "Vancouver, this is it" before the explosion reached him. Harry was only a couple miles further north. It was so loud where I was, 150 miles north. Had to have been ear drum busting up close. My mom and dad were digging clams at Ocean Shores on the Pacific when the mountain blew. The beaches were quickly evacuated. It was cloudy. they saw nothing. They did hear a big boom.