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37 years later, Mt. St. Helens eruption still rocks memories

'Where were you when the mountain blew?'

VANCOUVER, Wash. - It was a cataclysmic event that rocked the Pacific Northwest, and still reverberates in the minds of many today, 37 years later.

On May 18, 1980, after months of rumbling and steam vents, Mount St. Helens erupted in southwest Washington, sending up a mushroom cloud of ash, rock and hot gasses high into the air, leveling square miles of forests and sending torrents of ash and mud flowing for miles, claiming the lives of 57 people.

The 8:32 a.m. eruption was "the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The devastating eruption and aftermath also caused more than $1 billion in damage, as ash blanketed the Northwest, stretching across 11 states and Canada and some actually circling the globe.

Those who died included photojournalist Reid Blackburn, U.S. Geological Survey volcanologists David Johnston (who famously radioed: "Vancouver! Vancouver!" This is it!") and legendary Spirit Lake Lodge owner Harry Truman, who in his 80s told reporters he would not leave his mountain in the weeks preceding the eruption.

President Carter, surveying the ash-gray scene by helicopter days later, said it looked like a moonscape.

Since then, there have been smaller eruptions as a lava dome emerged in the yawning crater left behind when the mountain lost its top. Nature and wildlife returned quickly to the slopes and nearby devastated areas, another reminder of the awesome power of nature to both destroy and rebuild.

Just about everyone who lived here in the Northwest on that day and in those weeks and months has memories of what they witnessed and felt. Feel free to share yours with us here, following that saying from those days: “Where you when the mountain blew?”


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