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Readers Respond: Stories from the 1980 Mount St. Helens Eruption

Responses: 16


The eruption of 18 May 1980 had widespread effects, although the physical effects are mostly erased outside the blast area. But for a while, millions of people had their lives disrupted. Share what you felt and what you learned in the spring of 1980.

Just a Kid

I moved back to Alaska from Portland one month prior to Mt. St. Helens erupted. I remember sitting in my 4th grade class in shock because I was just there! And I still had family there. I remember feeling very sad for all the people who were still there. (My deepest sympathies to the entry below.) What I saw on the TV was ugly, but fascinating at the same time. Geology is my favorite!!
—Guest Jennifer H


I was a child back on Van Island when I saw it from a distance. I could not believe what I saw. I learned later what had happened. Everyone on the island knew. We considered ourselves lucky that day it did not reach us. Our angels were working overtime keeping us safe, out of harms way. We were happy we were still alive, survived the ordeal. I think most of us will not forget those who died in the eruption. Thank God, it was not worse.
—Guest way2real

That Morning

I was in the US Army stationed at Ft. Lewis in 1980...MP in 9th MP Co. I was on a day off and several of us headed for the coast for a day of clamdigging. We turned on the radio and heard of the eruption. Man what an event!!!
—Guest Stan

I'll never forget that day

I was 10 years old and living in a tent in a KOA campground in Sandpoint, Idaho, having just moved from California. I remember my stepfather telling some people swimming in the pool that the volcano just erupted and we needed to evacuate, but they laughed at him and told him he was stupid. We evacuated right away and headed for a hotel as the ash started falling. I remember being so afraid because it got very dark, the sun turned red, and then ash started pouring down. All of our camping gear was destroyed. I still have a bottle of ash displayed in my house...some of which I've donated to curious university professors. I will never forget that day.
—Guest Michelle

Mt St Helens eruption

I was living in Kelso, Wa the morning of the eruption. We had stained glass pieces hanging in several windows and they all started moving. They kept up a steady pattern of movement. The hanging plants were moving at the same rate. I looked out the front window and saw the black plume and knew what was happening. At first it looked like it was coming right at us. It was interesting to watch it turn once it reached the upper wind currents. We drove across the river and listened to the County Sheriffs on the CB. Terrifying as one officer would have died had he not stopped his car. He watched the bridge in front of him being washed away. The river between Kelso and Lewiston was clogged with trees and mud. It looked thick enough to walk on. There was one small tug boat out there trying to keep the logs heading down river. We had "snow" the following weekend. What a mess!
—Guest Caren

It went on and on...

We drove up to the top of the Cornelius Pass ridge (outside Portland) and watched the first eruption. After that, the erupting volcano and its effects became part of everyday life. Taking a bus downtown meant wearing a dust mask or ending up with a sore throat. One day I came out of Portland State and St. Helens was erupting again. Everyone stopped and watched for a few minutes, but by then it was old news and they moved on. On a bus trip to Seattle, the bus drove at about 5MPH over the Toutle River bridge, and the river was so packed with trees that it was hard to imagine that any water was moving. The bus wore a dust mask over the radiator, too. We shoveled ash out of the gutters on the house, and we managed to be quick enough so that none of the gutters - which were not engineered to stay up when full of rock, powdered or otherwise - came down, unlike our neighbors. I was majoring in Geology, and it was a great time for us in the Geology department!

waking up on sunday morning

I came out of a deep sleep, "What was that?" I got up and turned on the tv. I lived in Bend, OR at the time. The first thing I saw and heard was that St. Helens blew. Wow! How cool! I was in a geology class at COCC studying St. Helens. A few weeks later our professor took us into the area. We were in the vicinity for pics and the experience for some cool plumes. We wanted to sacrifice a virgin for an explosion, but the only female in the class declined.

Lights Turn on at Noon in Yakima

My husband and I were living in Everett WA at the time and actually heard the blast on Sunday morning before church. We thought it was a crash on the freeway, but boy were we wrong. I will never forget the amazing local news coverage we had, pictures of floating trees, that unmistakable billowing cloud rising above the mountain, the I-5 bridge and the railroad bridge being closed when the supports were pummeled by trees that went down the Toutle River like matchsticks. We heard amazing stories that our families back in Los Angeles never got. I'm so glad we've lived there then and got to witness this amazing geologic event.
—Guest bonniel

Mt. St. Helens

I was at the yearly May festival in my hometown of White Salmon, WA on the day she blew. It suddenly got very hot, the air was still and all the birds quit singing. I looked up and saw a cloud overhead. Then we heard that the mountain had erupted. That evening, as I was driving to Portland, I84 was lined with cars, I pulled over and watched her. Ash was exploding out of her to thousands of feet into the air and she was making her own lightning. There were a couple of times Portland got covered with ash. When I purchased a home in 1995 we still found ash in the gutters and on the plants! The incredible thing was, the year before the mountain erupted, I had hiked on a trail called Paradise Point that stopped at this rocky outcropping that looked right at the mountain. That point is no longer there as it was 5 miles from the mountain. I have many photos of before, during and after of her. As sad as it was for those who died it was a great privilege to have watched her evolve!


8 AM in Richmond, 140 miles due east of the volcano, the sky was covered with what appeared to be inverted mammatocumulus dark clouds with a fine grey ash precipitating. As I worked for a testing lab. at Hanford we received a printout of its composition, which I think was mostly SiOx. The depth was ~1-2 inch. 100 miles north, they received over a foot. Car air filters liken to cement. St. Helens was the real thing and a once in a lifetime experience.
—Guest wmdoug

Castlegar, BC golf course

I remember hearing the sonic booms and looking up into the sky and seeing widely scattered white cumulus clouds. I remember thinking that "mother nature" was doing something strange - and later in the day on another golf course at Rossland, BC noted the gray ash on my shoes (in the same afternoon). It was after the second golf game of the day that we heard about the eruption.
—Guest ajlepage

Sonic Boom

I lived in Eugene Oregon, approx 150 miles south of Mt. St. Helen. I was in bed and heard the sonic boom. It was very exciting, yet frightening at the same time.

The Day It Snowed Gray

When the Mount St. Helens volcano erupted my neighbors thought it was snowing. It was very funny but cute.
—Guest dude69


i packed my things and drove away as fast as i could !!!!!
—Guest amber

Off the Columbia River Mouth

About one month after the Mount St. Helens eruption I steered a fishing boat across the mouth of the Columbia River. We had run offshore to cross the mouth about ten miles out. The plume of the Columbia River is broad, and even ten miles out there were eddies and current rips. The river water had an unusual yellow-brown color. In the current edges and eddies were hundreds of floating trees. I assume that the water was colored by ash, and many floating trees had come from the eruption area.
—Guest jelogan


I was living in Ridgefield, Wa. when St. Helens erupted. In fact, because I was in law enforcement I had spent some time working road blocks to keep the curious out of the area. We had several small eruptions that had dropped ash on our place prior to that. It was a Sunday and we had no idea the mountain had blown it's top. As we arrived at our church, Mountain View Christian Center, we saw several friends standing in the lot looking at the pillar of ash soaring into the sky. It seems that we, who were very close to the southwestern edge were shielded from the sound of the explosion. After the eruption and for all the invervening years I have visited the St. Helens area. I still look for those old places that disappeared that morning and marvel at the aftermath and healing that has taken place. Where groves of gigantic Yellow Fir once stood there are new young trees that in 200 or more years will take their place. Providing the mountain continues Her sleep. A once in a lifetime thing.
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