Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!
May 18, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

On May 18th, 1980, thirty years ago today, at 8:32 a.m., the ground shook beneath Mount St. Helens in Washington state as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck, setting off one of the largest landslides in recorded history - the entire north slope of the volcano slid away. As the land moved, it exposed the superheated core of the volcano setting off gigantic explosions and eruptions of steam, ash and rock debris. The blast was heard hundreds of miles away, the pressure wave flattened entire forests, the heat melted glaciers and set off destructive mudflows, and 57 people lost their lives. A photo-essay.
posted by Nothing... and like it (75 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I can't believe this was 30 years ago....this was the single most exciting event of my volcano-obsessed little 7 year old life, and I remember seeing many of these pictures at the time.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by nevercalm at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll never forget hiking up to the rim of that crater in the early 90's, the side opposite the blowout, and looking across and out of the crater at huge swaths of tree trunks blown down by the blast. Until seeing that, I was all "yeah, let's hike up a mountain!" and then I was all "holy shit, the earth blew up!". I knew there had been destruction, but until I saw it from up there I didn't understand the scale.
posted by ericost at 12:37 PM on May 18, 2010

Fantastic photos. #9 is what I remember the most. Those thick, textured walls of smoke and ash, rising into the sky.
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2010

I was 12 in New Jersey at the time, already fascinated by these violent natural phenomena and amazed to witness such a history-maker.
posted by supermedusa at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2010

Plus it knocked out all the ATM's in Oregon, at least because they were all controlled from Portland.
posted by Danf at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2010

I was very little when this happened and I remember we went outside to the backyard and we were able to stomp our feet and kick up ash. At the time we lived maybe a half hour south of Seattle, which is hours away from Mt. St. Helens.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2010

I was in 5th grade and up until then I thought volcanoes were something that only existed in far-away lands or back when the dinosaurs were around. It didn't affect me on the East coast, unless you count the shit-ton of current events papers we had to do.
posted by bondcliff at 12:46 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was 13 in Olympia, WA at the time. I was watching TV when it was interrupted by the news bulletins--my whole family sat and watched, fascinated, entranced and a little horrified.
posted by maxwelton at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stuff like this somehow blows my mind more even more than the giant mud-flow stuff. Not sure why, exactly, but maybe because the fallen trees remind me of newly-mown grass, and then I start thinking about HOW FUCKING BIG a lawnmower would be that could do such a thing.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2010

Holy Fuck. Those are amazing pictures, I remember it happening but we didn't get much coverage in the UK back in those days. Earlier this year I was in Ecuador and was umming and ahhing about whether to go to place called Banos a town about 5km from a currently erupting volcano. I didn't go, the volcano didn't erupt sufficiently to damage the town, but still, glad I didn't go. The reach of the Mount St Helen's eruprion was insane.
posted by jontyjago at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2010

The Cascade Volcano Observatory page on Mt. St. Helens is a treasure trove of information about the volcano and its activities past and present. Including a link to the VolcanoCam!
posted by hippybear at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2010

For many years, one of my teachers had, hanging in her classroom, "I was at Mt. St. Helens, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!". It was full of burn holes.
posted by Malor at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2010

Those black and white photos are awesome. Way more awesome than they need to be.
posted by smackfu at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2010

I remember most the footage Dave Crockett shot of himself trying to escape the ash cloud. "Oh dear God, my god, this is hell... this is hell on earth... I got the wrong attitude here; this has to be something I can tell my grandchildren about..."
posted by not_on_display at 1:09 PM on May 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

The Google Maps view of Spirit Lake shows the floating forest that the volcano knocked down. Interesting how if you zoom out a few clicks you can see that they drift around to different parts of the lake.
posted by mullingitover at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was there the day before, four years old. It's one of my earliest memories. My parents drove our Volkswagen bus there from Eugene and parked by the side of the road to look at the mountain. There were a lot of people out there, leaning on the highway guard rail, looking at it. I didn't really understand the scariness of it until we were driving away and I watched it through the van's back window—the black smoke coming slowly out of the top.

The next morning, back in Eugene, there was a layer of ash on the hood of my parents' other car, the maroon Saab.
posted by interrobang at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was ten and lived in Oregon. I remember the whole saga of Harry Truman, the mountain man who refused to leave. When the mountain blew up, taking Truman with it, I remember it as being this tragic event because he was so brave and so on.

Now I think, 'dude was crazy. social services should have hauled his crazy ass outta there.'
posted by angrycat at 1:11 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was 9 years old and my family had just moved to the DC area from Ohio when this happened.

I remember the Dave Crockett footage very well too.

For me, the most striking image of the disaster was an aerial photo of a burned-out pickup truck on top of a ridge. Lying in the bed of the truck was the body of a child. I'm pretty sure it appeared in Time magazine, but I've never been able to find a copy of that photo on the web.
posted by smoothvirus at 1:13 PM on May 18, 2010

This happened on my birthday. I used to joke that it was the biggest birthday candle anyone ever had but when you look at the damage you realize this isn't funny at all.
posted by tommasz at 1:15 PM on May 18, 2010

Update, I found it.

Fair warning. This is a disturbing image involving the dead body of a child. It was certainly shocking to me at age 9, since the boy who died was about the same age as I was.

His name was Andy Karr, he was 11 years old. Even more tragically, his mother realized her husband and two sons were dead when she saw the photo in a newspaper.
posted by smoothvirus at 1:33 PM on May 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I slept through the explosion; I must be the only person I know who was living in Vancouver BC at the time who doesn't have a story about hearing it. Even people living on the Gulf Islands, much farther north, heard it, and momentarily, as I was told later, thought that a war (which we were all half-expecting) had started and Comox Air Force base had been nuked. I'd just come back from nearly a year in Europe and the Middle East; I might have still been jet lagged...
posted by jokeefe at 1:38 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

this for me, like others on here, is one of my earliest and most distinct memories. i grew up in vancouver, wa., and from where our house was you could see the massive ash plume from the living room window. pretty neat for a kid. or anyone really.

if anyone has the opportunity to go up there now i'd advise you do it. go to the observatory like hippybear says. go camping, backpacking, whatever. it's awesome and beautiful.
posted by rainperimeter at 1:38 PM on May 18, 2010

NOVA: Mt. St. Helens: Back From the Dead
posted by dirigibleman at 1:39 PM on May 18, 2010

Today, I can't stop thinking of my dad's close friend Tom Casadevall, who went on to become acting director of the USGS in the '90s. Googling their names together, I find that he and Dave Johnston were stationed at MSH together at that time.
On May 20, Tom Casadevall went to Chicago to be with Dave's parents.

The next day, Casadevall was in the kitchen with Tom and Alice Johnston, using topographic maps of the area and the Polaroid pictures he had taken around Coldwater II the day before. He explained that what happened to Dave had probably happened quickly. Alice wanted to know if her son's death had been painful. No, he said. Casadevall had worked with avalanche victims, and most of the trauma that had killed them had come from the shock wave of compressed air that rushed ahead of the cloud.

Late that night, Tom Johnston took the exhausted young geologist up to Dave's room and said he should sleep there. When Casadevall shut the door, he found tacked on it a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, carefully printed in a young hand. Dave had copied it as a teenager, and Tom read it and then copied it himself. The quote, which applied not only to Dave but to all the Survey scientists at Mount St. Helens, read:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Tom's a wonderful guy. I should give him a call.
posted by Madamina at 1:39 PM on May 18, 2010 [16 favorites]

posted by kcds at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I still have a bottle of ash from Helena, MT, over 600 miles away.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2010

Song, commemorating Harry Truman. A Mount St Helens song.

Quite extraordinary that David Crocket had a hunch that Mount St. Helen's would blow up. So he drove to the mountain, took out his camera and the mountain blew up. Pretty astonishing. Also, "In the whole valley there was one spot that wasn't destroyed -- one little patch. It was the spot where Crockett's news car came to a stop." I like this clip of Dave Crockett's raw video of the day he escaped. Pic of him next to the car he was in on that day.
posted by nickyskye at 1:44 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

30 years since Ian Curtis of Joy Division died, 30 years since Mount St. Helens exploded.

Some day.
posted by knapah at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just heard this the other day. The only known audio of the eruption. It was taken 140 miles away. Warning: use headphones or you won't hear anything...
posted by ob at 1:55 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was in first grade and we lived in Seattle in 1980. My dad took me out fishing that morning at the Mukilteo pier. Fishing with dad was the absolute highlight of my life during those years -- just him and me, getting up before the sun. He'd stop and get coffee at 7-11 and would buy me a hot chocolate. I always burned my tongue; never learned.

Anyway, we were out that morning and heard two loud booms. Dad told me that someone must be shooting off cannons. He then proceeded to explain cannons to me, in depth.

My mom told us what had happened when we got home that morning, smelling like fish. The car was covered in ash the next morning (or maybe two mornings later; don't remember). We had a couple days off from school, which was cool, but it was also a bummer because our moms wouldn't let us play outside.

We collected ash for several days in film canisters. They're still in my parents' hall closet somewhere. After we had moved back to Texas (we were only in Seattle for a couple years), bringing Mt. St. Helens ash to show-and-tell made me one of the coolest kids in school. It was only after moving to California as an adult that I realized what a high percentage of West coast residents have Mt. St. Helens ash somewhere in a closet.

Thanks for posting this; I hadn't noticed the anniversary. It's a tragedy that there was so much destruction and loss of life, and I'll take a minute to reflect on that. But the anniversary of the eruption always makes me think about my dad, and how wonderful he was to me when I was a little girl, and how we somehow successfully made it through the rough patch of my teens and 20s when my politics diverged from his and when he found out that I was gay, and how very much I love him and wished he lived closer so we could spend more time together emptying crab traps and edifying each other about things like cannons.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:00 PM on May 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

My god, those photos. Some of them look like windblown grass or grain, but then you see the scale, and realize you're looking at trees.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2010

Wow, jesus. The story of David Crockett is really quite something. It's like something out of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song.
posted by Drexen at 2:03 PM on May 18, 2010

And last week was the 25th anniversary of another explosion.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 2:09 PM on May 18, 2010

I was 12 years old, living in Spokane, WA. My Mom, brother and I were renting a house on the north side of with a view across the town. I'll never forget watching the black cloud filling up the sky from the southwest, the gritty feel of the ash underfoot, the odd sensation of being gently pelted by sand as the ash fell on my arms. I was a volunteer with the Red Cross Youth Corps, and we spent most of the next day downtown, handing out dust masks for anyone who needed them. Downtown was utterly deserted that Monday, flashing yellow lights, dark sky, ash-gray ground, and only an occasional semi rolled through, kicking up small hurricanes of dust behind them.

I worked on this Big Picture entry on and off for the past few weeks, it felt important to get it as right as I could, and it was a real trip going through all the photos - made me feel very old.

Please don't miss the May 21, 1980 broadcast of CBS Evening News with Dan Rather on Youtube.
posted by kokogiak at 2:15 PM on May 18, 2010 [14 favorites]

I was five when this happened. My uncle, who was on a fire crew in the northwest at the time, sent me a jar of volcanic ash as a gift. I dumped the jar out into the bathroom sink and ran hot water over it to make lava. Oh, to be a kid.
posted by cog_nate at 2:17 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I heard the blast from Vancouver, Canada, roughly two hundred miles north. It woke me up, a beautiful spring morn. I rolled over and went back to sleep, thinking it was just some bang from the nearby rail yards.

I was living in a sort of hippie house at the time. No TV and obviously no one listening to the radio either because I didn't find out about it until that evening when we were throwing a party. People started showing up, making small talk and, of course, there was no bigger small talk than the f***ing mountain that had just exploded to the south with hundreds of people of dead and/or missing.

We all knew some kind of eruption was due, of course. It had been a major news item for weeks (months?). But nobody's imagination was up to what finally did unleash. It certainly rocked my consciousness in a more or less permanent way. Stability is illusion. Nature is a monster, sleeping much of the time but watch out if she wakes up.
posted by philip-random at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2010

I don't remember the event itself so much, other than my parents cleaning ash from the car, but I remember watching the movie they made about the eruption over and over again, thanks to HBO's repetitive programming. Art Carney portraying Harry Truman, being all contrary. Crockett walking through the darkness. David "Jackson" saying "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!"


HP, you might want to check out the thread about MOVE.
posted by rewil at 2:20 PM on May 18, 2010

I was 22 and an art director for the Idaho Statesman in Boise. Busy day for news obviously. Housemate was a Troy McClure TV reporter for a local affiliate who got the call to the show, was tied to a helicopter a few hours later buzzing the ash cloud and got face time nationally on NBC News.

There's some interesting science to the rings of sound made by the eruption. You'll have a circle that heard it, another outer circlular band of X miles that didn't, another band that did.

Boise didn't get the worst by any means. Changed a lot of air filters on the car.
posted by hal9k at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2010

The Big Picture essay led me to wonder more about David Johnston, and so I ended up on the Wikipedia page about him and found it to be twice as informative and fascinating as I expected, and I had high hopes. It seems like this guy was one of the good ones, and he and his fellow USGS scientists helped save the lives of thousands by keeping MSH closed before the volcano.
posted by komara at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Mount St. Helens eruption was faked.
In picture #10 they clearly inserted The Thing's face from the Fantastic Four into the smoke from that non-comics code authority issue where Ben Grimm got kicked in the 'nads.
It's as fake as the moon landing.
It set the stage for the fake volcano in Iceland too. There's a card in the game Illuminati NWO called "volcano" - coincidence!? Wake up sheeple!
(Also, John Wayne was gay. I installed two way mirrors mirrors in his pad in Brentwood, and he came to the door in a dress)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember being 7 and in the middle of the country watching 20/20 or something and thinking 'Holy shit, those are trees!' when watching footage (or something related to that statement in a 7-year-old brain). My grandmother brought back some ash that my father still has.

I was talking to some people who were living in Portland at the time awhile back and they remembered people skiing on the ash to get around.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:49 PM on May 18, 2010

My family lived near Seattle when I was very young. I wasn't yet five months old when Mount St. Helens erupted. I know I asked my mom about the eruption years later; she said I was sleeping when she heard it, and I don't recall whether she said I slept through it or woke up.

I have a lot of memories of early childhood and of Washington; the running joke in my family is that I probably remember being born. I remember a lot of details about our old house, and our neighborhood, and I remember things like toilet training and the colors of our old cars and the grocery store where we shopped and the names of the malls that had TV commercials. I used to wonder if, somewhere way in the back of my head, I actually remembered what it was like to be a baby. For the longest time, I thought that maybe if I concentrated enough, or if I was reminded of some key detail, I could remember Mount St. Helens erupting. I really wanted to have some sort of memory of it, since it was the biggest historic event that I'd been the closest to, probably to this day.

Seeing those photos, and remembering how terrified I was by later events like the Challenger explosion, has made me very grateful that my memory was not actually that phenomenal.

Years later, I found the photo smoothvirus mentioned above, in a book on volcanoes. That image was burned into my memory, and I don't think I need to look at it today, or ever again.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:18 PM on May 18, 2010

That happened on my 9th birthday. We lived in redwood country at the time, in northern Northern California, and it seemed like it rained ash for months. I collected it in old film canisters, which I brought with us when we moved away a year later. Hard to believe it's been 30 years!
posted by mothershock at 3:28 PM on May 18, 2010

This is pretty cool, from komara's wikipedia link on David Johnston. A few pages in, it shows lateral photos of the stages of the eruption from a mountain miles away, along with marks of how far the eruption travelled at timed intervals. Pretty amazing.
posted by nevercalm at 3:30 PM on May 18, 2010

Dorothy Stoffel was flying 400 meters above the volcano when it erupted.
posted by idb at 3:48 PM on May 18, 2010

Mount St. Helen's: 30 Years Ago. The Big Picture.
posted by bwg at 4:10 PM on May 18, 2010

I am willing to bet substantial money that you didn't actually visit the link I posted.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2010 [14 favorites]

I am willing to bet substantial money that you didn't actually visit the link I posted.

No, no. He obviously liked it so much, he thought it deserved its own comment as well as its own FPP! :D
posted by zarq at 4:52 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am willing to bet substantial money that you didn't actually visit the link I posted.

OK, I flagged that as fantastic, in that I'm not sure I've ever seen a double post WITHIN THE POST. It'll be super-fantastic if someone takes the bet.
posted by nevercalm at 5:59 PM on May 18, 2010

That picture about the dead trees in Spirit Lake intrigued me. Check it out in google maps. If you zoom out you can see that the raft is sometimes on the other side of the lake. In the closer images, streamers of logs seem to indicate that it was in the process of switching sides when the satellite took the picture. That is just a shitload of trees.
posted by breath at 6:05 PM on May 18, 2010

I've got a little bag of Mt. St. Helens Ash from when my grandmother visited Washington soon after the eruption. This was well before I moved to Seattle and well before she died and before I moved back to New England from Seattle. I still have the little bag of ash and I can actually see it from here. Thanks for the post, and the memories.
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Huge news in Perth, too, FWIW.

Were the 50+ deaths due to the evacuation zone not being big enough, the ferocity of the blast and mudslide was under estimated? Or was it just not policed? "I you want to pitch a tent 8 miles from the mountain then good luck."
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2010

I was 11 when MSH blew. We lived in Denver and I remember the day a thin layer of ash showed up on the car. My parents' families lived in (southern) Oregon at the time and I remember being a little concerned for them even though they were nowhere near it. Geography has never been my strong point.

I have to confess, the photo essay made me a little melancholy, a little amazed, a little tearful (just a little, I was at work when I first clicked through), and maybe just a tiny little bit scared -- in an awe-induced kind of way. I've lived in Portland now for several years. Every once in awhile the mountain lets off steam and I wonder, is this it? Should I go buy a gross of surgical masks or something? Do we have enough tuna to last us a few days if we end up housebound? Yes, I'm a little bit of an alarmist.

tl;dr: Great post. Thanks.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 7:11 PM on May 18, 2010

I was actually thinking about posting something on Mt St Helens early this morning, but couldn't find much in the way of good stuff, just scraps and bits and pieces, and we've all seen the USGS webpage that hasn't really been updated since 1998. Good thing I didn't make the post, as I am absolutely sure I was going to write it up as "20 years ago..." Yet another reality check about getting older.
posted by crapmatic at 7:15 PM on May 18, 2010

As good a time as any to introduce you to WORD OF THE WEEK: caldera.

I thought photo number 33 showed some calderas, but after a second look, maybe they were just big puddles?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:26 PM on May 18, 2010

Dudes.. You make me feel old..

I was 33 years old, just out of 10 years in the US Navy and in my first year with Intel, working a Saturday morning at the Hillsboro, Oregon plant.

Coming to work that morning, I had a good view of Mount Saint Helens as the sun was rising. A couple hours later a guy runs onto the manufacturing floor saying the mountain has blown up. Yeah right..

A bunch of run up to the second floor breeze way between the two buildings to see the most impressive column of smoke I had ever seen. Made a visit a year later, before it became a tourist attraction. Amazing destruction.
posted by jgaiser at 7:53 PM on May 18, 2010

Crapmatic, pssst. :)
posted by zarq at 7:58 PM on May 18, 2010


Feet of ash in my granddad's yard, in Yakima. Still have a coffeecan of it someplace. I can tell you where the mountain would be on my southern prospect if the trees didn't cover the horizon. I love and hate these ends-in-zero anniversaries even though I was not here when it happened.
posted by mwhybark at 8:19 PM on May 18, 2010

Here's a link to a five-year-old KOMO recounting of Dave Crockett's moments in the dark. I'm not sure if it's more or less than the material posted upthread, but the centerpiece is five minutes or so of unedited, nearly pure black footage in which he narrates what he took to be his last moments. Dave lived. It's amazing stuff.

Madamina: "Tom's a wonderful guy. I should give him a call."

You should. I have thought of Dave Johnston as a hero since, well, the day he died. I think of him every time I think of the mountain. I have an embedded view of the volcanocam, situated at the interpretive center on his namesake ridge, on the upper right of my neglected blog; every time I look at the site, I think of him.
posted by mwhybark at 8:36 PM on May 18, 2010

I know it was Sunday morning because we were watching Spiderman and Rocket Robin Hood on CKVU 13. We heard a boom that rattled the doors of the house. I thought it was some sort of artillery salute on the grounds of the Legislature (surprisingly common in Victoria, BC). Our dad came downstairs. He was sleepy and unshaven, and was wearing his old blue housecoat. He told us to stop slamming doors.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:14 PM on May 18, 2010

And always keep in mind that the current Republican party thinks that "something called 'volcano monitoring'" is a waste of money:
"But Democratic leaders in Congress -- they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.
- Gov. Bobby Jindal (R- Federal Disaster Area)
"Faceless government bureaucrats" laid down their lives to save American lives. Republicans sneer at the very idea of protecting the public.

(And, on preview, I see that kcds has got it, above.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:31 PM on May 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

(and the actual link: kcds)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:35 PM on May 18, 2010

Jeeze, I was in Vancouver (BC), but I don't remember the bang. I do remember the ash in Surrey and White Rock, but I don't know anyone who heard it.
posted by jrochest at 11:14 PM on May 18, 2010

Great post and lots of great stuff in the thread. As for everyone else here, the eruption was a formative event to me and I can't believe it's been 30 years.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:30 PM on May 18, 2010

The 57 people who died, what did they die of? I know upthread there was mention of the shock wave, and there was the avalanche, but I guess I just don't know enough of what happened. I always think of Pompeii and the bodies. Is that what happened?
posted by bibbit at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2010

The 57 people who died, what did they die of?

Depends. Some got taken out the initial blast, some by floods, falling debris etc, but I'm pretty sure most just suffocated.
posted by philip-random at 8:55 AM on May 19, 2010

6 years old, living in Montana (little town called Manhattan, in the Gallatin Valley). I still remember the "gray snow" we had falling on our cars. If you look at the satellite photos of the ash plume, it looks like it was aimed right for us.

We had to wear bandannas over our faces to keep from breathing in the ash. I remember our hippie neighbor brushing it off of his VW microbus, and my parents warning us not to simply wipe it off of the car because it would leave scratches.

Wow. 30 years already?
posted by caution live frogs at 10:11 AM on May 19, 2010

According to this article, part of the reason so many people died is because the danger zone was designed with the political decision to leave major logging zones unaffected due to the potential for economic losses if those lumber harvests were delayed. A major recreation area was along side the logging zone, and so was deemed "safe", even though it was less than 5 miles from the eventual blast site, on the side of the mountain known at the time to be bulging.

You can still buy pressed-ash sculptures at the Pike Place market in seattle.
posted by nomisxid at 10:16 AM on May 19, 2010

My grandmother used to have a National Geographic magazine dedicated to the eruption. The pictures really show the scope of the devastation. I can't find any of those pictures on the web, but I'm pretty sure it was the January 1981 issue.
posted by daHIFI at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2010

Most of the people who died were killed in the pyroclastic flow from the lateral explosion. So either the shockwave killed them, they suffocated, or they were roasted alive in the 800 degree heat.

The reason many died was because at that time, vulcanologists had never seen a lateral blast like what happened that day. Everyone expected that if the mountain blew, it would blow straight up, like most volcanoes do. Nobody expected the lateral blast.

I'm sure David Johnston would never have been at that campsite if he and the rest of the USGS team had known what was about to happen.
posted by smoothvirus at 1:59 PM on May 19, 2010

One of the linked articles (maybe the wikipedia page of Johnston) says he was one of only two geologists who believed there could be a northward lateral blast (since the rising dome was pointed north), and so he knew that he was in the line of fire.

What I find amazing is that the guy Johnston was subbing for, another geologist, was himself later killed in an eruption in Japan.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:12 PM on May 19, 2010

What I find amazing is that the guy Johnston was subbing for, another geologist, was himself later killed in an eruption in Japan.

Harry Glicken. He took the second picture in the photo-essay. Such an eerie picture now; it was taken the day before the eruption, looking right at the bulge on the side of the mountain. We now know that this was akin to staring down the barrel of a giant gun aimed right at the viewer's head.

The same pyroclastic flow that got Harry Glicken also killed the Kraffts.
posted by smoothvirus at 2:22 PM on May 19, 2010

« Older The book will not be overdue, as you will read it...   |   The Talented Mr. Ripley + Six Degrees of... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments