MOUNT ST. HELENS — Thirty-eight years ago today, the north face of Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington was changed forever when an underground earthquake struck the simmering volcano, triggering the largest landslide in recorded history and sending a plume of ash miles skyward, then downwind over hundreds of thousands of square miles of the Northwest.
For people living in this region of the country on May 18, 1980, it created a major volcanic eruption that scattered ash over parts of a dozen states. In some cities in Washington state and Oregon, the ashfall darkened the skies, triggering street lamps to shine and forcing drivers to turn on their headlights to safely navigate the roadways.
Mount St. Helens exacted a heavy toll on humans, their lives and on the natural surroundings of the once-beautiful peak. Fifty-seven people were killed as a result of the mountain’s eruption. The peak’s top 1,300 feet was instantly blown away by the near-supersonic lateral blast. The collateral damage took the form of shockwaves and pyroclastic flows that flattened forests and sent melted snow and ice rushing off the mountain as massive mudflows.
I was a (very) young reporter at that time. Before the blast, the Northshore Citizen’s publisher John Hughes had stocked our office storeroom with a supply of face masks and oil filters should the mountain continue to spout ash. The week before the cataclysmic event, the Seattle region had gotten a sampling of ashfall — just enough to lightly cover parked car windshields — as the volcano teased with a sampling of what was to come.
When the mountain exploded, its blast was heard hundreds of miles away. On a peaceful Sunday morning just north of Kirkland, I was awakened at about 8:30 a.m. by the sound made by a blast wave, obviously distant but still clearly defined. Although the brewing Mount St. Helens had dominated the Northwest’s pre-internet news cycle in previous days, I had no clue the blast I heard was the volcano — about 195 miles away — fulfilling its prophecy.
If you were around 38 years ago, what do you remember on the day of this monumental natural disaster? Did it impact your life in any way? If you have an interesting remembrance of May 18, 1980, or of the days that followed the initial eruption, tell us about it.