A Survivor’s Tale: “Half the mountain exploding over our heads”

One thing I love about blogging is hearing from readers, especially readers who have intriguing tales to tell. A bit ago, Timo5150 left a tantalizing clue that one such tale might prove extra-intriguing:

I was living just outside Randle Washington when it erupted, 20.2 miles from it. From there it was more of a low rumble that you more felt than heard. The ash got so thick even indoors that for awhile we thought we would suffocate. I wrote about our experience on Squidoo if you would like to read about what it was like. Just search for surviving Mt. Saint Helens.

And so I did, and promptly ended up perched on the edge of my chair:

On the morning of May 18th, I was in the groggy, lethargic state between being asleep and fully waking when I hear my wife get out of bed saying she thought her father (who also lived on the ranch) was leaving because she thought she heard a car rumble. When she reached the kitchen and looked out the window she let out a heart-stopping, blood-curdling scream that sounded like she was witnessing the end of the world, as I am sure she thought she was. It brought me straight up out of my bed and I ran to the kitchen to see what all the screaming was about. What I saw I will never forget for the rest of my life. It looked like the world was coming to an end. The sky was filled with very dark heavy clouds that were boiling and rolling towards us at a very high rate of speed with the biggest, thickest bolts of lightning I have ever seen. There is nothing I can compare it to. In one sense it was awesome, but in another, it was terrifying. What we later learned was that what we were witnessing half the mountain exploding over our heads but it looked like half the world.

There’s much, much more. It’s an amazing glimpse into what it’s like to have a mountain blow up all over you. Thank you, Timo5150, for sharing your story!

Mount St. Helens in eruption. Aerial view of eruptive column which is very dark. Top of Mount St. Helens is obscured by clouds. 0935 PDT. Skamania County, Washington. May 18, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.
Mount St. Helens in eruption. Aerial view of eruptive column which is very dark. Top of Mount St. Helens is obscured by clouds. 0935 PDT. Skamania County, Washington. May 18, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

A Survivor’s Tale: “Half the mountain exploding over our heads”
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8 thoughts on “A Survivor’s Tale: “Half the mountain exploding over our heads”

  1. 1

    Wow. That would be terrifying! My step-brother and step-sister were in Spokane (we lived in Az at the time) visiting their dad when it happened. From that distance, it was still a bit scary, and they brought home a small jar of volcanic ash, and some bits of pumice that I think made it all the way to Spokane. That’s several hundred miles away…..

  2. rq

    Thank you for (once again) sharing this story!
    When you write your book, I hope you can have an expanded chapter on this and other further-away survivor stories, in addition to the close calls you have already written about.
    It’s geology wrapped up in the guise of a based-on-a-true-story thriller, and it would be a book worthy of your round-up of gift books. And I already know who would get a (signed?) copy. ;)
    Half the mountain… I can only (try to) imagine.

  3. 3

    I was just barely a teenager in 1980 when this happened, but I still remember it well. We lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the time, and I will never forget my father making me repeatedly wash the cars (parked outside) to clean the fine whitish/gray ash off. For a kid, even that was pretty awe inspiring–that a volcano could erupt 1500 miles away, and the ash could make it all the way to where I lived.

  4. 5

    Incredible! I was in Vancouver, WA at the time, just 47 miles away. Actually, probably even less than that because we were out in East Vancouver. I believe I slept through the initial eruption (I was just 7 at the time), and we didn’t get a drop of ash from it because it all went east. We did get ash from some later eruptions – I remember how that ash would turn into something resembling concrete when wet. It was a good time to have a gutter-cleaning and -repair company!

    But what amazes me now is how blase we were about it. I remember playing softball in the field behind our house sometime in the next year or two when a kid pointed out that the mountain was erupting again. We all looked, shrugged, then went back to our game. It was just background noise to us.

  5. 6

    I was out working in the family field southeast of Portland. My mother had been following the news reports closely; she saved all of the newspaper clippings to make a scrap book. That morning, we could see the plume of ash from behind the intervening hills. We got some ashfall, but probably less than a half inch.

    And speaking of, I just saw this in today’s news about a newly discovered roll of photographic film from one of St. Helens’ victims:


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