Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mt. St. Helens Eruption - Disasters

West side of Mount St. Helens, looking up the South Fork
 Toutle River valley March 25, 1980. By WAstateDNR

© 2011, copyright Michelle Goodrum The Eruption of Mount St. Helens is the only natural disaster that I have truly lived through. There isn't a May 18th that has gone by since 1980 that I don't think about that day. At the time, I was a student at Washington State University, in Pullman which is in eastern Washington, and experienced the ash fallout with its resulting aftermath first hand. The morning of the eruption, a Sunday, I woke up to what I can only describe as weird, greenish lighting outside. Slowly day turned into night as the ash coming our way covered the sun and began to fall from the sky. By mid afternoon it was as dark as midnight and we were being cautioned against going outside as there might be poisonous gasses in the ash.

May 18, 1980 eruption. Photo by WAstateDNR.

Students who lived in the surrounding dorms had to go outside to get to our dining hall in order to eat. I was fortunate in that my dorm was attached to the dining hall. Sudents coming into our dining hall from other dorms had to wear layers of clothing to protect against the ash. Some students dressed up like Star Wars storm troopers and even Darth Vader, complete with light sabers!

Surface of the debris flow in North Fork Toutle River valley,
looking southeast toward the volcano. May 24, 1980.
Photo by WAstateDNR.
The university was closed for several days; something that even snow couldn't do. People couldn't drive their cars without the engine being choked on ash. The state patrols had to put these huge filters on the front of their patrol cars to keep the ash out of the engine.

Unfortunately, that was one of the only times in my life that I had no film for my camera and no way to get any as the student store, the only store within walking distance, was closed. However, I did scoop up some ash in a plastic cup. I still have that container of ash after all these years.
In 1997, our family had the opportunity to visit Mt. St. Helens and the visitor center at Johnston Ridge where David Johnston was camped that fateful morning and radioed in the eruption to the USGS base in Vancouver. Seventeen years after the eruption life was returning to the once sterilized area but evidence of the eruption's power was still evident everywhere.

Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Ridge.
August 1997. Photo by Michelle Goodrum

From the Northwest, August 1997. Photo by Michelle Goodrum.
   52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts to encourage people to record memories and insights about their lives for future descendants. It's not necessary to be a blogger to join in. Just record your memories on your own if you wish.


  1. I remember the event, but, never a first hand account. WOW.

  2. wow, great photo and nicely told. Do you happen to remember anything about the guy who refused to leave was it a henry or Harold. I have wondered for years what happened to him.

  3. You have a good memory Rootdogger, his name was Harry Truman. He owned the Mt. St. Helen Lodge at Spirit Lake and refused to leave when the area was evacuated. Unfortunately, he died in the eruption on May 18th.

    I found pictures of a trip my parents took to Spirit Lake many, many years ago. It was a beautiful, idyllic place. Hard to believe the entire lake was buried/destroyed in the eruption.

  4. Michelle, an excellent post and an amazing story! I can't imagine it all!