mount saint helens
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.
With the eruption and possible explosion of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, my thoughts are drawn back 38 years to another mountain…Mount Saint Helens. The scientists said that an explosive eruption was imminent. The mountain had been swelling up with internal pressure from the gasses deep in the earth. Still, some people didn’t believe the mountain would ever hurt them, and many just couldn’t wrap their head around the possibility that it might explode. So, some people stayed in their homes in the area. It would prove to be a fatal mistake.
It’s strange that we are able to associate things in life with major events in recent history. Many of us can say where we were when we learned of President Kennedy’s assassination, or when 9-11 took place. It is a moment that is embedded in our memories for all time. That morning as the ash rolled into our area, I was getting into my car to go to town. It looked like dust on my car, a very thick layer of dust. Of course, it wasn’t dust, it was volcanic ash. It had never occurred to me that volcanic ash might affect me, but here I was, needing to wash the ash off of my car, so it was not damaged.
My cousin, Shirley, who lives in Washington, said she and her family were in Spokane. She saw a black cloud coming their way, and so she turned on the radio, to see what was going on. She immediately started yelling to the teachers and students from Saint Matthews school, who were at an end of the year baseball game. Every one scrambled to get their belongings, and headed back to the Church, before heading for home. Navigation became difficult. They had to watch the curb on the side of the streets to know where they were. It was a long drive home. They held their breath from the truck to the house, to protect their lungs, and watched the street lights come on. Shirley went out on the front porch and took pictures, before retreating back to the safety of her house. They were forced to stay in the house for about a week, before it was safe to out again. Many safety precautions were in place, and people were told not to breathe the ash because of the glass in it.
Mount Saint Helens is located in the Cascade Range. On May 18, 1980, at 8:32am Pacific Standard Time, it erupted and blasted 1,300 feet off of its top, sending hot mud, gas, and ash running down its slopes. Approximately 57 people were killed directly from the blast, while 200 houses, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. Two people were killed indirectly in accidents that resulted from poor visibility, and two more suffered fatal heart attacks from shoveling ash. The explosion sent plumes of dark gray ash some 60,000 feet in the air which blocked out the rays from the sun making it seem like night over eastern Washington. So…where were you when Mount Saint Helens blew?
In April of 1993, my sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I took a trip to the Seattle, Washington area where our sister, Caryl Reed and her family were living at the time. I had not been there before, and so was excited at the prospect. We planned to have dinner at the Space Needle, do some shopping, visit Friday Harbor, and the one I was most looking forward to, Mount Saint Helens. Since the mountain had blown up on May 18, 1980, I had been intrigued. My parents had gone there, but I was married and so didn’t go along. On that trip, because the roads there didn’t open until May, and this was April, the viewing of Mount Saint Helens was not to be, unfortunately. I was disappointed.
I will never forget hearing about the coming eruption in the news, on March 15, 1980. When we first heard about it, people were riveted to their televisions, but as time went on, I suspect that people got bored with it. After two months, it got to the point where we all wondered if it was just a false alarm. Then, at 8:32am Pacific Time on May 18, 1980, the mountain blew up…literally. Suddenly, everyone was riveted to the television again. It was just shocking, and since 9-11 had not happened yet, it seemed like the most shocking thing we had ever experienced…in my lifetime anyway. I remember going out to my car and finding ash all over it. I had a hard time believing that a volcano that was over a thousand miles away in Washington state, could dump ash on my car in Casper, Wyoming. The ash went completely around the globe within a matter of days. Of course, it was nothing like what they had in the area surrounding the mountain.
When my daughter, Amy Royce and her husband Travis and son, Caalab moved to the Seattle area, and then decided to renew their vows, we decided to make the trip up for the ceremony. I wanted another chance to get to see Mount Saint Helens. My first attempt was thirteen years after the eruption, and that attempt was twenty two years ago. It was time. We had a rather small window of time to go see the mountain, with everything that has been planned at Amy’s house. So, Thursday was the day. Unfortunately, we seem to have picked the worst day of the days we would be here. Nevertheless, we went in the hope of a view of the…for me anyway…elusive Mount Saint Helens. Our grandchildren, Shai and Caalab Royce went with us. They were born well after Mount Saint Helens blew, and really knew very little about it…until today, that is.
Our first stop was to the visitors center, where we looked at the exhibits displayed there and watched a really good movie that told of the events leading up to and including May 18, 1980 and beyond. After we left, I think they had a much better idea about the magnitude of the whole event. We drove up to the area where we could finally view the mountain itself, only to find it sitting right there in front of us…completely shrouded in clouds and mist. We could see where the ash had landed and where the water and mud had carved out deep crevasses. We could see where erosion had taken its toll on the area, and where trees had been wiped out, and now rather small ones have grown up in their place. We could see the base of the mountain, and really, almost half way up it, but the now famous space left when the top that is no longer there blew, was still not visible to me. Sadly, I guess some things are simply not meant to be.
My mom and dad never wanted their kids and grandkids to move far away, but sometimes, that can’t be helped. While Alena and I have always lived here, Cheryl, Caryl, and Allyn have lived away for at least a time. One nice thing about that for Mom and Dad…if there could be a nice thing, is that they made sure that they took trips to see their daughters and their families in the states they were living in. It was a great way for them to see new areas of the country too.
Caryl and her family lived away the longest, and so there were several trips made out to see her. Caryl and her family lived in a number of places too, so the trips weren’t always the same…a definite plus…at least for Mom and Dad. The rest of us didn’t get to see each other as much as we would have liked when we weren’t all in the same town. I am a lot like my parents in that I like that closeness with my kids, as well as my sisters. It’s funny how the parents always make a way to go and see their children, and the children come home to see the parents, but the siblings just don’t seem to work that out quite as often.
For Mom and Dad, their travels to visit the kids would take them, and us kids too, since we were still at home, to upstate New York, and along the eastern coast; Colorado, in the Fort Morgan and Pueblo areas; San Diego, California; Seattle, Washington; and Twin Falls, Idaho. They always turned those visits into vacations, taking the family they were visiting along. Since Caryl, was away the longest, they went to see her the most. They have many great memories of those visits. I think they especially loved the Seattle area, because of it’s beauty. Caryl showed them all the sights in the area, including Mt Saint Helens, after it blew…interesting, but sobering too, I’m sure. And there was, of course, the beautiful Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean, and the rainforest, all of which would and do, draw the attention of people all over the country. It is a beautiful area.
Although Mom and Dad really enjoyed the trips to visit their children who lived far away, it was always their preference to have them living close to home. When Caryl married Mike Reed, and moved to Rawlins, where Mike lived, it was a move away from Casper once more, but this time, it wasn’t so far away. Now, when they retire, they plan to move back to Casper for good, and that is going to finally bring full circle the saga. At that point all of my parents’ kids will be living in Casper again…unless someone else moves away. Today is Caryl’s birthday. Happy birthday Caryl!! We look forward to the day when you like in Casper again. Have a great day!! We love you!!
After Mount Saint Helens blew up, and it had been deemed safe for tourism, my parents took a trip to Washington to visit my sister, Caryl and her family who were living in the Seattle area at the time. They decided to take a trip to see Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I’m not sure how many years after the eruption their trip was, but I do remember them telling me about how totally barren the whole place was. They told us about the buried cars and homes sticking out of the ash…broken and ruined. During that eruption, 57 people lost their lives, as well as countless numbers and species of wildlife. I can’t imagine the way that whole area must have felt to be in…so quiet and empty of life…almost like being on another planet.
Yes, it would be a trip of a lifetime…to be able to see an area devastated by a volcano eruption. It is such a powerful act of nature, and yet, behind it all is such a great loss of life and destruction of such beautiful land, and in this case, even a loss of the beautiful mountain top, now forever changed. So many trees were destroyed, literally blown over and burned in minutes. It is so strange to think that one minute the area was filled with wildlife, trees, and flowers, not to mention people…and the next minute it was all gone. Yes, they knew it was coming, but I’m sure many people truly didn’t believe it would happen, or at least that it would not be as bad as it was. I think that if they could have known what was coming, they would have left the area, but their minds couldn’t wrap themselves around that reality…in fact I don’t think most of the nation expected the eruption to be what it was. I know I was shocked by how devastating it was.
It has been over 32 years since that shocking day in our nation’s history. When I came across the pictures of my parents’ trip through the area, I began to wonder what the area looks like now. It would seem that the area is slow to return to life, but then I suppose that ash makes poor soil for many things to grow in. Weeds might do ok there, but trees and grass…maybe not so much. I don’t know how my parents or my sister, Caryl and her family felt about the area, but their pictures told the story of a disaster of epic proportions.