The Mountain

  • The Yakima tribe called the volcano Lawetla’la, or “the smoker,” and braided it into their mythology.
  • In 1792, explorer George Vancouver named the volcano after his pal, British diplomat Alleyne FitzHerbert, 1st Baron St Helens. 
  • The volcano has been active off and on since at least 2500 BCE; its previous major eruption occurred in 1800.
  • In March 1980 small seismic tremors announced that things were about to get biblical.

How Tall?

  • Elevation of summit before the blast: 9,677 feet
  • Elevation of summit after the blast: 8,363 feet

The Eruption

  • On May 18, 1980, at 8:32am, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the mountain and the entire northern slope collapsed—the largest landslide in recorded history.
  • The slide exposed the core of the volcano, setting off magma explosions and blasts of rock, gas, steam, and ash. 
  • People as far away as Orcas Island, 240 miles north, heard the blast. 
  • The plume of ash shot 80,000 feet in the air, spread across the U.S. in three days, and circled the planet in 15 days. 

The Defiant Ones

Three people who refused to leave the mountain and paid the ultimate price

  • David Johnston, a 30-year-old volcanologist monitoring St. Helens; at 8:32am he radioed the U.S. Geological Survey office in Vancouver: “This is it!”
  • Harry Randall Truman, the 83-year-old proprietor of the Mount St. Helens Lodge who defied evacuation orders and perished along with his 16 cats
  • Reid Blackburn, a 28-year-old photojournalist on assignment for The Columbian and National Geographic who camped eight miles north of the volcano
The Damage
  • $1.1 Billion in estimated damage, including to raods and railways, caused by the blast ($3.1 billion today)
  • 7,000 estimated big game animals killed
  • 200 homes destroyed
  • 300,000 two-bedroom homes could have been built with the four billion board feet worth of trees the blast blew down
  • 57 people killed

 This article appeared in the May 2015 issue of Seattle Met magazine.

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