, Washington, USA (state) - 1980 - May 18 - Mount Saint Helens (in Washington State) erupted spewing ash and smoke sixty-three thousand feet into the air. Heavy ash covered the ground to the immediate northwest, and small particles were carried to the Atlantic coast.
MOUNTAIN ERUPTS; 6 DEAD.
Vancouver, Wash. (UPI) - Mount St. Helens exploded in a giant, killer eruption Sunday that blew 600 feet off its summit, set off huge forest fires, sent "walls of water" racing down a river valley and spewed pungent ash clouds over much of Eastern Washington.
At least six people were killed fleeing the eruption, and many more were feared dead, possibly buried under tons of ash and mud.
The eruption was by far the largest and most spectacular outburst since the mountain awoke from 123 years of dormancy March 27. Officials ordered about 2,000 people evacuated from the base of the volcano.
Officials said mudflows and flooding on the northwest side of the mountain wiped out large swaths of forest.
"It's totally devastated," said MAJ. BILL HEWES of the Air Force Reserve in Portland, who was coordinating search and rescue efforts. "It's like being next to ground zero in an atomic bomb explosion."
HEWES said his helicopter pilots had spotted six bodies northwest of the mountain in the Toutle River Valley - three in one car, two lying near a Weyerhaeuser Co. logging facility 12 miles from the mountain and another on the banks of the Toutle River.
HEWES predicted the death toll would go much higher. "I would imagine by the time the total comes in we'll be looking at some fairly significant figures, maybe up to 50," he said.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey reported the violent eruption early Sunday blew the top off the 9,677-foot peak, creating a new crater 1.5 miles wide.
Geographical Survey spokeswoman MINDY BRUGMAN said flows of hot ash and gases had reached Spirit Lake, a three-mile long, heart-shaped body of water at the mountain's 3,200-foot level. There were unconfirmed reports the lake was gone.
There was no immediate word on the fate of HARRY R. TRUMAN, 83, who had refused to leave his lodge at the lake.
The mountain exploded at 10:32 a.m. CDT with a bang heard for more than 150 miles, and thick clouds of dark ash rose 10 miles into the air.
Ash and melting snow on the slopes formed mudflows that sent two "walls of water" racing down the Toutle River Valley on the volcano's north side.
"We have not at this time confirmed any lava flows," said DAN MILLER, a scientist with the Geographical Survey.
The huge ash clouds turned day to night as far away as Spokane, 290 miles to the northeast, forcing airports in six cities to close and filling some emergency rooms with people suffering from chronic lung problems.
Accumulations of ash reached 3 inches in some towns, including thick deposits in Yakima, officials said.
Army and Air Force reserve helicopters were continuing a search and rescue effort in the area.
"We've got about six helicopters out right now," said a spokesman for the Air National Guard in Portland. The Guard reported dead elk and deer "all over the place."
Scientists for weeks had feared that such an avalanche could crash into Spirit Lake at the mountain's 3,200 foot level, creating huge flows of mud and water. The main Amtrak line between Seattle and Portland was closed down because a railroad bridge was washed out by a 12-foot wave from the mountain.
Sheriff NELSON said one evacuee told him "it looked like the whole north side of the mountain came out."
The eruption sparked a 3,000 acre forest fire two miles east of the volcano and dozens of smaller fires on federal, state and private land, U.S. Forest Service spokesman JIM UNTERWEGNER said.
Mudflows from the peak caused flooding on the upper Toutle River, authorities said, washing out one small bridge and a railroad span and sending two muddy, debris-filled "walls of water," as high as 12 feet in places, moving down the valley at 30 mph.
'LOOKED LIKE END OF THE WORLD'
Cougar, Wash. (UPI) - DON PLUMB, a freelance photographer, was climbing up Mount St. Helens Sunday morning "when the mountain blew up on me."
"I saw Goat Rock get blown up, and the main crater fell in about 500 feet, and I took off and went 12 miles down through the brush to Cougar," he said. "It was hot, I'd say about 100 degrees or more."
"There were some people who died in cars not far from me. I think it was from the gas. They were a little closer to it than I was, I guess. I could taste the gas, but I kept moving and it never got too bad."
BART DALFONSO saw the eruption from Hopkins Mountain, about 25 miles north of Mount St. Helens.
"When that mountain went, it looked like the end of the world," DALFONSO said.
"Heavy, thick clouds boiled up, white and blue lightning flashes crackled throughout the mountains. And it rained mud balls - little balls a quarter inch in diameter. And after that, the ash came down. It was so powerful and quick they way the clouds built up. It just got black, and I mean pitch black."
JACK FOLLIOTT, who lives on a small farm at the volcano's base, said he heard it explode with a bang.
"This would be the end," he said he thought. "My whole life is tied up in those five acres. I don't know what I'll have when this is all over."
Private pilot BOB BOWER was flying high above the mountain when the explosion came. He said the blast was followed by a huge expanding cloud of smoke.
"It was moving so fast," he said. "The mountain was completely covered. It was massive. It was really unbelievable. It was traveling very fast."
UPI reporter GENE GIBBONS was on the outskirts of Cougar, at the base of the mountain's south slope, when it erupted.
"A huge billowing cloud of dark gray smoke hung motionless in the clear blue sky," GIBBONS said. "As I watched, the dark gray cloud rapidly expanded. It reminded me of something I hadn't seen since my Army days more than a decade ago - massed artillery firing on a concentrated target."
The eruption sent what was described as walls of water and mud thundering down the Toutle River.
"I could hear it crackling from my house," said TOM HUNTINGTON, who lives at the mountain's base. He said he drove to a vantage point overlooking the Toutle River and saw a sea of logs traveling at about 25 mph.
"It was wall to wall logs, millions of dollars worth of timber," he said.
As smoke and ash continued to shoot upward more than 10 miles from the volcano's summit, a huge pungent cloud covered the sky over Eastern Washington as far as Spokane, 290 miles to the northeast.
Highways were closed because of inches of ash on the surface and poor visibility, and many persons reported breathing problems.
"When someone passes you on the street, you have to almost come to a complete stop because you can't see," said NADINE LEE, director of admissions at Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Wash.
"The ash rolls up so fast. It's almost like an old-fashioned dirt road. The dust just boils up from the tires."
May 19, 1980
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