Most people who were alive in 1980, remember the catastrophic eruption of Mount Saint Helens on May 18th, but I wonder how many people…at least people who didn’t live in Washington state at that time…remember the earlier eruption that took place on March 29th. Volcanic eruptions don’t usually bring loss of life these days, because there are so many warning signs. That is what made the 57 lives lost to the Mount Saint Helens blast on May 18th so devastating. The warnings were there. The people were told, but the ones who lost their lives chose to stay in the area anyway, despite the glaring changes in the mountain and the urgent warnings to stay away. We had all heard that there was a distinct possibility that the mountain was going to blow. It was not just the people in Washington who were warned, but all across the nation too. I vividly remember being told what to expect when the mountain blew, because they knew the ash would encircle the entire Earth before it was all said and done.
For a week, prior to March 29th, the area had been hit with small earthquakes below the mountain. These earthquakes were an indication that magma had begun to move below the volcano. On March 20, at 3:45pm Pacific Standard Time, a shallow magnitude 4.2 earthquake centered below the volcano’s north flank, signaled the volcano’s violent return from 123 years of hibernation. Over the 20th and 21st, 174 earthquakes of 2.6 or greater hit the area. At 12:36pm on March 27th, phreatic eruptions (explosions of steam caused by magma suddenly heating groundwater) ejected and smashed rock from within the old summit crater, opening a new crater 250 feet wide, and sending an ash column about 7,000 feet into the air. On March 29th, an eruption of Mount Saint Helens blasted a mushroom cloud over most of the state of Washington. Then on May 18, 1980, came the catastrophic blast that took the lives of those who had stayed, even with the many warning signs, and public warnings.
I understand the rights of people to make their own decisions concerning their safety, but when warnings are given, the choices people make need to be taken into account before allowing any lawsuits to take place. Of course, as with any kind of disaster, people want someone to blame for the pain they are feeling over the loss of their loved ones. In this case it appears that the safe zone might have been miscalculated, but it is my belief that we are also responsible for our own safety. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be anywhere near that mountain in those days. Of the 57 people killed, the Weyerhaeuser Company and representatives of 14 victims of the Mount Saint Helens’ 1980 eruption filed lawsuits. The plaintiffs alleged in a King County Superior Court suit that Weyerhaeuser misrepresented the danger posed by the volcano and misled loggers and others into believing it was safe to be near the peak. Maybe they did, but the trial ended in a hung jury. They could not agree either. To me it seems as if this blast was nothing like the normal eruptions people knew about. In the end, the plaintiffs settled out of court for a reported $225,000, but the forest products company still denies liability. I don’t claim to know whether or not these 14 victims were wronged or if they simply didn’t take their own safety into account when they went too near the action. I do know that at the time, it made no sense to me to be anywhere near a mountain that was so filled with pressure that it was bulging. I thought that was a warning in itself. I remember the public warnings about the mountain. It simply made no sense to take the chance.
I’m sure many people can recall a friend or two who had those silver teeth in grade school. Of course, they were really a spacer to keep the teeth from getting crooked when they were knocked out long before they should have been, and the permanent teeth were still years away. They were also used when the permanent teeth were somehow knocked out, and rather than have a big gap, the dentist replaced the missing tooth with the silver version. This was before they came up with implants for teeth, and of course, these days no one has silver teeth any more. Dentists have learned so much now, and they can even put the original teeth back in and they do just fine. Nevertheless, when my brother-in-law, Mike Stevens was a young boy, he was riding his bicycle, when the front wheel of his bike came off. Losing the front wheel of your bicycle does make it impossible to do much except have a wreck. When he fell, he knocked out his two front teeth. The dentist replaced them with those old silver teeth, and he was called “Chipper” for years. In the nearly thirty years since my sister, Alena and Mike have been married, I never knew that he ever had silver teeth. At some point, the dentist must have fixed them for him, so I never knew he was called “Chipper”…until a little birdie told me about it.
Mike has had a couple of little…situations where he ended up on the ground in an unexpected way. As a teenager, he was in his room sleeping, when the house next door to them was blown sky high in a gas explosion. A sleeping Mike found himself thrown literally against the wall. Now, if that isn’t a rude awakening, I don’t know what is. I mean, with the bicycle, at least he knew he was about to take a face plant into the pavement, but when you are sound asleep, and suddenly you are flying across the room…well, all you could possibly think is…”What in the world is going on??” I don’t believe Mike was hurt badly in that explosion, but I would have to imagine that he ached for a few days…along with that very thankful feeling you would have that you are still alive. I remember that explosion. It was only a few blocks from my parents house. There was literally nothing left of that house, but I’m very thankful that my brother-in-law, Mike and his family were not hurt.
When you think about all the times a person that you love could have been seriously hurt, or even killed, you find yourself very thankful that God’s angels were standing guard over their lives…whether they knew it or not. Mike has been a wonderful asset to our family, and I simply can’t imagine our family without him. He is always willing to help when he is needed, and he has some very innovative ideas. His sense of humor is one that has made all of us smile or better yet, have a great chuckle over for years. Today is Mike’s birthday. Happy birthday Mike!! Our family is very blessed to have you in it. Have a great day!! We love you!!
After my story a couple of days ago, on logging in the old days, my cousin, Elmer told me a story that our grandma told him years ago. I didn’t know that some of my mom’s family was also in logging. They were loggers in Cascade, Idaho, which is a beautiful area. In figuring the time frame, I would expect that my Great Uncle Herman was a logger in the 1940’s or so. Logging may be something that can be done year round these days, but back then it was more a seasonal thing, and required that the men who worked there find other work in the off season.
According to the Grandma, who is Great Uncle Herman’s sister, he had been hired to dig graves in the off season. The ground there is rocky, and in the winter, the ground gets frozen and really hard. Digging graves under those conditions would be quite difficult. Uncle Herman’s boss told him to use a little bit of dynamite to loosen the soil a little bit. I don’t think my uncle had ever been around dynamite much…nor have I, but Elmer figured that a quarter of a stick would have been enough. He didn’t know for sure how much dynamite Uncle Herman used, but apparently the resulting hole was big enough to bury half of the townspeople. The good news was that somehow he didn’t hit any graves in the area, because no body parts were unearthed…thankfully, because I can’t imagine what a scene like that would do to a person.
The pictures that immediately came to my mind when I heard this story is the look that must have appeared on my uncle’s face when he saw what the dynamite had done. I also thought about the noise the blast made, and the fact that this mistake was not going to be able to be kept to himself. Not only would his boss know about it, but the whole town was going to know about it. Of course, Uncle Herman lost his job that day, and went on to do other off season work…probably a lot less exciting, but maybe less dangerous for everyone concerned. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that every time that incident came up in Uncle Herman’s mind or in the conversation that was going on, he couldn’t help but laugh at the very absurdity of the situation. I know Elmer and I have laughed about it repeatedly since we heard the story.