Happy volatile birthday Mt. St. Helens

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  • #10748
    Dan Packard
    Keymaster

    35 years ago today, she burst her top. It was Sunday, May 18, 1980. I was visiting in Seattle. My dad was out in the front yard working on his sailboat mast. He heard a couple booms to the south and thought it was from military jets.

    A little later, I happened to spin the dial on the radio and tuned to KOMO. Ted Garlatz, the traffic reporter, was reporting from his airplane. I thought that’s weird, it’s Sunday morning, they never do traffic reports then. Upon closer listening, he was describing the huge plume of ash spewing from the mountain.

    Mt. St. Helens erupts

    As the news and scope of the eruption became more serious, I decided it would be a good idea to get back down to KLOG radio in Kelso, close to the mountain, where I was working at the time. I hopped in my car and drove south down I-5. After passing Centralia, two Washington State patrol cars, came speeding past with lights and sirens. About 20 minutes later, I saw what they were in a big hurry about. They had closed I-5 at the Toutle River since it was rising quickly.

    Hundreds of cars and trucks were stopped. I made my way over to the shoulder and was able to backtrack off of I-5. Somehow, I found a circuitous side route to the west that got me back to Kelso after a couple hours.

    Steve Hanson the owner of KLOG, along with other staff, was on the air taking calls and reports from listeners. It was chaos and confusion. A farmer called saying the water was rising around his farm and animals were stranded. Every news media outlet you could think of from around the world was also calling trying to get updates.

    Time went by quickly. We kept the station on full daytime power (1000 watts), rather than the reduced night-time authorization (250 watts). I remember taking a break after midnight, and walking a few block over to the Cowlitz river. In the dark, a torrent of raging water was rushing by with houses, refrigerators, cars — all kinds of objects stirred up in the muddy flow, heading towards the Columbia. Steam was rising from the river. An eerie sight.

    The old man of the mountain, Harry Truman of Spirit Lake lodge, who Terry Sullivan and I interviewed a few weeks earlier, was obliterated. He didn’t want to leave the beautiful area that had been his home, when authorities urged him to.

    Harry Truman - Spirit Lake lodge

    #10752
    paulwalker
    Participant

    Dan you and I are on the same wavelength. I was noticing that the “Politics and other” side of your site has been quiet for an unusual amount of time, the longest I can remember in years. So I was thinking of what could I put up here that would get people talking. And I thought the same, St. Helens 35th.

    So tell your stories if you were around here then.

    I was working at KTAC Tacoma, (a very short stint, before I returned to KING-AM. Dan, I think you even stopped by my University Place apartment one evening. Do you remember that?

    My main memory is waking up the day after and noticing the whole color spectrum around Tacoma was oddly different. It was actually interesting and quite beautiful. Instead of grey or blue, it was purple! Just very odd as purple is not a color you see in the sky during the middle of the day. Tacoma itself had just a thin coating of ash, and Seattle even less. Of course the prevailing winds were directly easternly that is why Yakima, Moses Lake, part of the Tri-Cities, and Spokane got the brunt of it.

    This is a lifetime memory for those of us who were here. And it sure doesn’t seem like 35 years ago! Of course, we were around 20 at the time, and now we are not.

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