Articles, Non-Fiction
She Blew Her Stack and Killed 57 People
Scott A. Gese


Mount St. Helens was the most devastating volcanic eruption in U.S. history.

The eruption took place in Washington State on the morning of May 18, 1980. The pressure under the bulge was more than she could hold back. With a rumble and a roar she finally blew her stack. A massive lateral blast of such magnitude, it literally reduced the height of the mountain by a quarter mile.

Mount Saint Helens imageImage Source/Flickr

It was an early Spring morning. I was outside washing my car when I heard the noise.

A booming/rumbling type sound that rolled down Oregon's Willamette Valley from out of the North. A dozen startled birds flew from a tree in my front yard. My bewildered dog began to bark. Even though the sound was far in the distance, I had an uneasy feeling about it.

The thought of an Atomic bomb flashed through my mind. If it was, I’d know soon enough.

It would be later in the day when I heard the news. It wasn’t an atomic bomb, but it had the power of one.

~~~~~

This was back in 1980 and the booming sound I had heard was a volcanic explosion 180 miles away.

The volcano was Mount St. Helens. The once dormant volcano in Washington State roared back to life in a ferocious blast that can only be described as epic.

The eruption wasn’t a total surprise. There were some warning signs. For about two months prior there were several ominous indications that something was amiss. A couple of large earthquakes and over ten thousand smaller ones were recorded in the mountains vicinity. Several steam venting episodes also took place. A massive bulge of over 450 feet could be easily seen protruding from the North side of the mountain.

The eruption took place in Washington State on the morning of May 18, 1980. The pressure under the bulge was more than she could hold back. With a rumble and a roar she finally blew her stack. A massive lateral blast of such magnitude, it literally reduced the height of the mountain by a quarter mile.

The Blast from Washington State's Mount Saint Helens Devastated the Area

Mount Saint Helens imageImage Source/Flickr

A landslide of major proportions slid down its North flank taking snow, ice and several glaciers with it. The glaciers, now melted by the terrific heat of the blast caused a massive volcanic mudflow. It traveled down the side of the mountain at speeds of 90 miles per hour demolishing everything in its path. It flooded two rivers and carried debris downstream for over 50 miles.

The blast and resulting landslide quickly depressurized the volcano’s magma system causing several more powerful explosions. A 600 degree gas and steam blast flew down the side of the mountain at over 300 miles an hour. The forest landscape in front of it was stripped bare and flattened, destroying everything in its path.

The Blast Could be Heard for Over 150 Miles in all Directions

Mount saint helens devastation imageJ. Means / Public Domain Image

The event killed 57 people, destroyed close to 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad tracks and 185 miles of highway. The lateral blast flattened 230 square miles of forest land and released an estimated 24 megatons of thermal energy. It left a crater over a mile wide and lowered the height of the mountain by 1300 feet.

The blast could be heard for over 150 miles in all directions.

This was the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in the history of the United States.

Mount St. Helens, located in Southern Washington State, is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. This arc runs through three western states. California, Oregon, and Washington and continues into British Columbia. It’s comprised of over twenty major volcanoes. Most are dormant but as we’ve seen with Mount St. Helens, any one of them can become active at any time.

The devastated area has been preserved as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It was created to preserve the volcano and allow its aftermath to be scientifically studied.

Mount Saint Helens before and after imagePublic Domain Image

Here's a short video of the eruption.


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