Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

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On this day in 1980 at 8:32 AM Mount St. Helens erupted, triggered by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake beneath the mountain's north slope; in all 57 people were killed that day, while 200 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km (15 miles) of railways and 300 km (185 miles) of highway were destroyed. It was, and remains, the largest volcanic eruption in the contiguous United States in recorded history; the area is now preserved by the US Parks Service as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

I was living in Chilliwack at the time, and was actually a witness to history when, like millions of others within its earshot, I heard Mount St. Helen's erupt. I'd been laying in bed when I heard what sounded like the lid on the dumpster beneath my bedroom window being dropped; I can remember wondering which of my friends was up so early on a Sunday morning and already messing around. The sound of it woke my parents up and startled our dog so badly she refused to come out from under their bed for an hour. Ten minutes later my mother came into my room and turned on my clock radio; that's when I learned what I'd really heard. While conducting research into this piece I learned that the force of the eruption was equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons; no wonder then, despite being more than 200 miles from the blast, that it was so clearly audible where we were.

Later that day I can remember the dusting - literally - of ash on our car. I even asked to borrow my mother's camera and took a picture of it; I had the picture in an album for years, but now I can't find the picture (or the album) anywhere. Fortunately the eruption was more enduringly dramatized in a 1981 TV movie entitled St. Helen's, starring Art Carney as holdout and victim Harry Randall Truman, the owner of the Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake and something of a celebrity in the last days of his life; he was among those who died that day after refusing to leave the mountain and his body has never been found. The event is also covered in a book, Truman of St. Helens: The Man & His Mountain, by Shirley Rosen.
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Seumas Gagne said...

I remember that day too. We hopped in our cars and rushed downtown Poulsbo, which had an unobstructed view south. We saw the ash plume quite clearly.

michael sean morris said...

That night I had a nightmare that my grandparents were trapped under the ash, and my mother and I had to drive to Kelowna (where they lived) as fast as we could to rescue them.

All because that evening they'd called us and told us how much more ash than us they'd gotten. I guess due to prevailing winds it looked like it was snowing there.

TheQuestionMan said...

In Port Moody, B.C. we looked to the skies. We were forewarned by the media of the possibility, but until it happened we had no clue.

Thinking back on it I can only remember thinking is this mother natures version of a wake up call?