Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption is touted as the deadliest in United States history. The mountain blew its top on May 18, 1980, leaving 57 dead and an enormous horseshoe-shaped crater in its place. On May 21, Former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Warren Magnuson (D-Wa.), and Governor Dixy Lee Ray toured the volcano.
Feliks Banel of KIRO News Radio recalled the president’s comments about the devastation he had seen from the helicopter:
I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before. Somebody said [Mount St. Helens] looked like a moonscape. The moon looks like a golf course compared to what’s out there. The absolute and total devastation of a region…encompasses about 150 [square] miles. There is no way to prepare onself for the sight that we beheld this morning.
Mount St. Helens Memories
Kurt’s dad was golfing when the sky darkened under the ash cloud. According to Kurt, it remained dark for two days. It was so dark you couldn’t see your hands. Awesome and freaky at the same time. Luckily, we got two weeks off for school,” the then 11th grader exclaimed.
Later that week, Kurt started to earn extra cash sifting Mount St. Helens’ ash from the decorative bark. Word-of-mouth about his service kept him busy all summer.
One of the Mount St. Helens-related deaths was an 83-year-old folk hero, bootlegger, and prospector named Harry R. Truman. He lived near the active volcano. Additionally, he was the owner-caretaker of the mountain’s lodge. Kurt remembers people were upset with the older adult when he refused to leave, ignoring evacuation orders. As a result, Truman died in the lava flow that overtook — his home — the lodge. After his death, friends recalled his love for the mountain.
Volcanic Eruption Details
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), The first sign of an eruption was recorded about two months before Mount St. Helens blew its peak off. Then, on March 20, 1980, NBC News reported that a 4.2M earthquake caused snow avalanches on parts of the volcano.
Between March 20 and May 18, there were over 2,800 earthquakes recorded at the volcano — Mount St. Helens. On May 18, the USGS recorded a 5.1M quake that shook the mountain. This earthquake caused the bulge to burst, resulting in a landslide. The USGS said: ‘Once the bulge was gone, the volcano’s magma system was depressurized and blew off the top of the mountain, 1,314 feet.
The ash, rock, and hot gasses sprayed into the air, and ash blanketed the Pacific Northwest. Volcanic ash was detected in 11 states and Canada. Amazingly, Mount St. Helens’ ash circled the globe in two weeks.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
King5 NBC News: The deadliest volcanic eruption in US history happened 43 years ago
USGS: 30 Cool Facts about Mount St. Helens; by By Carolyn Driedger, Liz Westby, Lisa Faust, et al.
USDA: Forest Service: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Interview: Kurt Ware (my husband) on May 21, 2023