The Day The Mountain Blew

Mount St Helens sits in Washington state, only 96 miles south of Seattle. It's an active volcano and it proved itself 30 years ago today when it let loose on the Pacific Northwest at 8:32 in the morning. It's been deemed the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States.

The elevation of the summit was decreased by some 1700 feet. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. Ash flew up 12 miles and headed toward Central Washington; and we were right in its path.

The air was white and gritty and it got dark as night. I was 20 or 21 and worked nights at a fast food joint. As usual I slept in late. When I got up it was dark. I really don't remember how I heard the news but I still went to work that afternoon. We just couldn't keep up with cleaning the ash off of the counters and tables so we had to close. We weren't supposed to drive because that just made the ash fly around more. And if you did drive you had to turn your lights on, in the middle of the day. The ash clogged filters and destroyed car engines.

But we had to get out for groceries. I was holed up with a friend of a friend. He was in the process of moving so I let him stay with me for awhile. We cooked mac-n-cheese and just stayed home.

I found out later after he had left, that he was arrested for raping  someone. Nice. I was sharing my living space with a rapist. Yes, I have led an interesting life.

As bad as it was for us, my hometown and smaller surrounding communities were hit harder. Most of these pictures were taken by my parents. The ash was just something that you couldn't get rid of. It was like snow but it never went away. You still can see visible signs of ash along many roadsides. Many made the best of it by incorporating it into pottery and selling it for big bucks.

Taken from a farmers field, the ash was coming in volumes

Two o'clock in the afternoon

Our front sidewalk with inches of ash on it

Footsteps in the ash

Cleaning off the roof

An idiot driving by

My brother cleaning off the camper 

The National Guard shows up to help

More clean up help arrives

The mountain and surrounding areas have recovered better than experts thought it would. It still lets off steam occasionally and is probably one of the most watched volcanoes. Tourism is flourishing and people are back fishing and enjoying the wildlife.

I'm glad that I was around to witness such a part of history although I don't remember a whole lot. And if it happened today I would be a lot more scared than I was back then.

Comments

Grumpy said…
Amazing story and your pictures provide a great historical record. Did I understand you to say that there are still signs of ash along roadsides today?
kden said…
Yes Grumpy, especially in the smaller towns that were hit the hardest. Also along 1-90 in the area of the worst fallout. It just looks like white dirt along the side of the road. In yesterday's paper they had a special insert of peoples' memories and what they were doing at the time. I wish I had been a little older to remember; or maybe not ;-)
bill said…
I remember the actions you describe. I had been paying attention for days before it blew, interested because of the peculation and I had spent time at Ft. Lewis and stayed up there w while after being discharged. IT was one of the most spectacular things I have seen (I saw it blow on TV). I learned to ski on Mt. Rainier and have climbed around on that mountain. I enjoyed your article. Brought back memories.
Claire King said…
My sister was visiting from WI when the mountain blew. We heard the news on the TV first and when we went outside, it was still sunny but we saw the darkness approaching. I recall this was only a few hours after the initial trauma. I live in the Puget Sound area.

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