Seismic activity began months before; however on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in Washington erupts, causing a massive avalanche and killing 57 people and the ash from the volcanic eruption fell as far away as Minnesota.  Mount St. Helens is 96 miles south of Seattle in the State of Washington, USA.

Map showing location of Mount St Helens

Map showing location of Mount St Helens

The seismic activity recorded in March 16th was a 4.2 magnitude tremor and then there were 174 different tremors recorded on March 23-24. The first eruption occurred on March 27, when a 250-foot wide vent opened up on top of the mountain. Ash was blasted 10,000 feet in the air, some of which came down nearly 300 miles away in Spokane. The ash caused static electricity and lightning bolts.

Mt St Helens March 30, 1980 ash & steam eruption; Cheryl Haselhorst; 1980

Mt St Helens March 30, 1980 ash & steam eruption; Cheryl Haselhorst; 1980

Authorities issued a hazard watch for a 50-mile radius around the mountain. The National Guard set up road blocks to prevent access to the area, but these were easily avoided by using the region’s unguarded logging roads. Many residents of the area evacuated, but a substantial number refused.

HELL NO I WON'T GO!  Harry Randall Truman (No relation to the President) near his lodge on Spirit Lake, April 1980

HELL NO I WON’T GO! Harry Randall Truman (No relation to the President) near his lodge on Spirit Lake, April 1980

Throughout April, scientists watched a bulge on the north side of Mount St. Helens grow larger and larger.

Geodimeter station (EDM) set up at Smith Creek Butte, east side of Mount St. Helens. USGS Photograph taken on April 25, 1980, by Peter Lipman.

Geodimeter station (EDM) set up at Smith Creek Butte, east side of Mount St. Helens. USGS Photograph taken on April 25, 1980, by Peter Lipman.

On May 18 at 8:32 a.m., a sudden 5.1-magnitude earthquake and eruption rocked the mountain. The north side of the peak rippled and blasted out ash at 650 miles per hour. A cloud of ash, rocks, gas and glacial ice roared down the side of the mountain at 100 mph. Fourteen miles of the Toutle River were buried up to 150 feet deep in the debris. Magma, at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, flowed for miles.

Toutle River Bridge Destruction After Mt. St. Helens Eruption

Toutle River Bridge Destruction After Mt. St. Helens Eruption

The 24-megaton blast demolished a 230-square-mile area around the mountain. Geologist Dave Johnson was the closest to the eruption when it blew. He was on his radio that morning and was only able to say, Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it! before his truck was pushed over a ridge and he was killed.

Geologist, David Johnson.  Photo by Warren Anderson

Geologist, David Johnson. Photo by Warren Anderson

Location of the USGS Coldwater II Observation Post at Mount Saint Helens where Dr. David Johnston was killed. Image: NASA LANDSAT7 visible color. Image retrieved via NASA World Wind.

Location of the USGS Coldwater II Observation Post at Mount Saint Helens where Dr. David Johnston was killed. Image: NASA LANDSAT7 visible color. Image retrieved via NASA World Wind.

Millions of trees were scorched and burned by the hot air alone. When the glacier atop the mountain melted, a massive mudslide wiped out homes and dammed up rivers throughout the area. The plume of ash belched out for nine hours; easterly winds carried it across the state and as far away as Minneapolis, Minnesota. The falling ash clogged carburetors and thousands of motorists were stranded. Fifty-seven people died overall from suffocation, burns and other assorted injuries. Twenty-seven bodies, including that of the stubborn Harry Truman, were never found. Mount St. Helens went from 9,600 feet high to only 8,300 feet high in a matter of seconds.

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4 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    I remember this vividly. My dad and I could not understand why Harry Truman would not leave (I won’t say how my dad said it but he was a lumberman from the old school ways so you can figure it out:)) When it erupted, I was stuck at the TV as was my dad. I remember listening to the scientists who claimed that no life would be there for over 300 yrs or was it 500? My dad said Bulls#$! he claimed scientists are always negative and they do not know the power of nature. He stated nature can destroy as we see here but nature can heal and it will heal must faster. He claimed there will be animals back within 5 yrs. He was right. I watched a recent documentary on Mt St. Helens and it is amazing how much life is back and I always think of my dad’s words

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  2. I was a little girl living near Portland when this happened. I remember we weren’t allowed out of the house for several days and the ash fell like snow. My dad still had to go to work and I remember he had to wear a mask outside so he wouldn’t breathe in the ash.

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