24 Years ago Today - May 18, 1980
(Mt. St. Helens Erupts)
Back in 1980, I lived in Spokane, Washington, and was in 6th grade. On Sunday, May 18th, I walked, barefoot, out onto my front porch - it was a warm day. I was bored, it was a Sunday. I was stretching and looked to my right, to the West, and saw a huge dark cloud heading our way. It looked exactly like this
. I called to my Mom, and we both stood in our front yard, a little scared, a little excited. We thought that it was likely "the mountain", as we had been hearing that Mt. St. Helens (250 miles away from us) could blow its stack "any day" for weeks. Soon after, the cloud moved over us, blacking out the sky. We watched the streetlights flicker on in the early afternoon. We could feel the grittiness of the pumice and ash as it brushed our skin, falling to the ground. I can remember how it felt, underfoot, as I stepped on a thin coating of ash on our painted-concrete front porch steps.
In retrospect, it seems sort of a yawner, the whole "getting ashed" thing - akin to a big storm or something, but at the time, there was a lot of doubt and worry - would there be poisonous gases in the air? Would the ash be harmful to our lungs or throat? Would it scratch the finish on a new car? Would it choke the livestock? Would it clog air filters? Nobody really knew, but everyone seemed to think it would be alright (and it was - the only major problems were felt up close to the volcano).
The next few days were bizarre - dark days and darker nights. I was a volunteer for the Red Cross, and we handed out disposable face masks to people on city streets. The only problem was - we (volunteers) were the only ones out on the streets. I remember a semi roaring through downtown - a giant roiling cloud of ash billowing out from under it and behind it - all colored orangey-gray by the street lights, punctuated by flashing yellow traffic lights. You'd have thought it was 2 am, but it was only 2pm. Soon, some rains came and made a muddy mess of everything, and within a week or two, it was mostly back to normal.
As it happens, I got caught in an ashfall once again, twelve years later in Anchorage, Alaska in 1992, when Mt. Spurr sent a small cloud over us. The ash was rougher, larger bits of grit. It actually stung a tiny bit if it fell on bare skin. I got caught outside and had to ride my bike about a mile home in it, breathing through my shirt. The two experiences were equally surreal, but May 18th will always be "the big one" for me, and a lot of other folks I know. Remember when natural disasters were scarier threats than people (other than the ones with nuclear bombs)?
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