Mt St Helen’s Eruption: Ashfall

The sun is beginning to set here in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been spending the day with memories and ghosts. I believe as long as we remember their stories a part of them lives on within us. I’ve skimmed through several documentaries on Youtube trying to find just the right ones to share with you. The ashfall turned a bright beautiful morning into midnight. It was gritty. It was everywhere. There was no where to run and no one knew what to do, so we gathered in groups. We watched and we waited. Fifty-seven people died as a direct result of the eruption.

Louwala-Clough/Loowit/Lavelatla, the names varied by local Indigenous tribes but the translations all represents what she did often. The names translate to “smoking mountain” or “the smoker.”

I was five years old in Spokane on May 18, 1980. This video is the closest I could find to how I remember it:

I’d also you like to meet Harry Truman (no relation to the former US President), a man who became a local legend and folk hero. At 84 years old, he was determined to die with the mountain he loved.

When you click on this video you will get an alert. Select “Watch On YouTube” to watch the video directly on YouTube in a new window.


The boy in the back of the truck

American news media rarely shows images of dead bodies on television or in print. I can think of three exceptions, but this one stands out clearly in my head because it really hit close to home. It must have been in print. I remember staring at it for what felt like an eternity. I think it was A Time magazine special edition on the Mt St Helens Eruption. I was nine at the time I found it. The image of a boy nearly my own age covered in ash lying dead in the back of a pickup truck. A truck like ours. He could have been me. He could have been my brother. He could have been a friend. A part of me will always grieve for a kid I never knew. Frozen in time. Frozen in a historical event. The boy will never grow up.

You can view the image here. I will not pay for it. It is burned in my memory already. That someone profits off this image because that how we do business in America sickens me.

The body of eight-year-old Andy Karr lies in the back of a truck… News Photo – Getty Images


And finally, what have we learned from this day? We learn that life carries on in many ways:

While sad, I hope you find these videos interesting.

15 thoughts on “Mt St Helen’s Eruption: Ashfall

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mark! It’s probably the earliest memory I can recall and yet me and my family all recall it slightly different. None of us can agree where I was at the time. My dad says he thinks I was with him out at his house. I think I was in my mom’s car waiting for her to get a quart of milk from the store so we could make pancakes for breakfast, but maybe I’ve crossed the memory with another memory of a severe hail storm.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Schingle! Was the moutain still smoking then? There was a period, I think it started in 2004 when it started to smoke again and a whale-sized bulge was created in the cauldron. It went on for awhile and we kept waiting for it to erupt again, but it didn’t. I’m very concerned about two other sleeping volcanoes that could take a lot of lives, Mt Rainier and Glacier Peak. In Oregon, Portland has Mt Hood to worry about.

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      1. I was living in Portland, OR, when it erupted. My husband and I had gone to Mt. St. Helens about 2 months before it blew its top. I remember how beautiful and peaceful it looked when we enjoyed its serenity, so we were terribly upset and sad when it erupted.

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      2. I can only imagine how sad that was for you! I know it was tough for my parents. They used to spend a lot of time around there as well. My mom even hiked Mt St Helens when she was 9 months pregnant with my older brother!

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    1. Thank you for your comment! That’s exactly why I created this blog, we need to work with nature not against it. We need to work within our abilities. We can’t (or shouldn’t try to) build houses to survive lahars, but we can keep lahar zones as recreational use areas and find practical environmental solutions to managing ashfall.

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  1. I was living in Portland Oregon and had a front row seat, up on the third floor of an apartment on 5th and Hall, when the volcano went off. The ash cloud just kept going up, and I was so shocked (I’d just walked in the door, was facing this window and THIS is the sight that met me) that the cigarette I was holding burnt all the way to nothing. I’ll never forget it. The ash falls. The cars skidding in the streets. The earthquakes. The whole town stopped as the ask began floating down like feathers – every car, bus, truck, pedestrian – people getting out of their cars to look up, and one man breaking the silence with a sad “Oh no….”

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      1. Oh no, how are you feeling now? ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿพ The jab is also putting lots of people down here in Uganda. There’s a stigma against it but hopefully that will end.

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