Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 18, 1980

A date most of the country doesn’t remember, but local people living around Mount Saint Helens on that date recall vividly when nature showed her dark side as the long dormant Cascade Volcano erupted in the early morning hours, spewing untold tons of pollutants into the air.

Twenty Eight years have passed since we witnessed the savage fury of nature as the mountain lost 1,300 feet of her top in mere minutes. Ash and steam poured out the crater almost all day, triggering lightening from the rising cloud. Likened to the explosion of an Atom Bomb, the eruption was heard over 200 miles away in Canada, but strangely, was unheard in the Metropolitan areas of Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon, both within a 50 mile radius that the eruption was not heard.

President Jimmy Carter visited the devastated area and said it looked more desolate than a moonscape. The US Geological Survey released a pamphlet calling the eruption the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States.

Rescue efforts by National Guard and Civilian workers were difficult, as visibility near the mountain remained nearly non-existent throughout the day. Between 120 and 150 people were rescued due to the extraordinary efforts of rescuers over the next two days. Sadly, 57 people lost their lives, including one couple that died while watching the eruption from 25 miles away.

It has been estimated that over 7,000 big game animals, about 12 million salmon fingerlings in hatcheries, all birds and most small mammals were killed in the blast.

200 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. The mountain itself lost a cubic mile of material from her summit.

The eruption was caused by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that started a massive landslide on the North Slope that grew into the largest landslide ever recorded.

Residents near the mountain that were evacuated were allowed to return on Saturday, may 17, to retrieve belongings from their homes. Another trip in to the “Red Zone,” an area established by then Governor Dixie Lee Ray as “prohibited access,” was scheduled on the morning of May 18 for around 10 A.M.

The massive scar that fanned out from the crater has been slowly repairing itself over this past 28 years. Looking at the mountain from the south side, you couldn’t tell an eruption has occurred. Plant life began growing almost immediately as animal life slowly migrated back into the area.

In 1982, 110,000 acres were turned into the National Volcanic Monument, where visitors from all over the world have come to see the devastated area and displays set up along the drive to the nearest point accessible, the Johnson Ridge Observatory, about 5 miles from the mountain.

Wisely, the environment within the Monument area has been left to respond naturally to the savage eruption as Geologists and Scientists study the natural recovery of the devastated area. Unbelievably, outside the Monument area, where logging companies own and maintain the land, human efforts at recovery are lagging behind those occurring naturally.

In the fall of 2004 the mountain began a series of smaller “dome building eruptions” that astonished environmental scientists as they discovered that the smaller eruptions were producing more pollutants released into the atmosphere than all of Washington State’s industries, combined! The mountain even was out polluting a Coal Fired Power Plant in Centralia, Washington, previously thought to be the states top polluter.

Dome building eruptions are very minor in comparison to the disastrous May 18, 1980 eruption. And that eruption, when compared to other historical eruptions, is considered relatively minor as well. Still, it is claimed that Carbon Dioxide, although not an air pollutant, is responsible for Global Warming and that man produces massive amounts of Carbon Dioxide compared to Volcanoes. Ignored today is just how much the Earth’s plant life is dependent upon Carbon Dioxide to grow, produce food and oxygen for mammals.

As the candidates all line up to push some sort of restrictive and punitive measure on us, as the spew their fear mongering, hysterical warnings of doom and gloom if we don’t make radical changes to our lifestyles and agree to pay more outrageous taxes, reflect on the Chipmunk above, 5 miles from the crater of the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States.

While we have reduced our release of pollutants and will continue to do so, maybe our Politicians need to learn from the lowly little Chipmunk and chill out, relax and smell the flowers. There is no need to panic when the earth itself is continually polluting and man can do nothing to stop it.

As the 28th anniversary of the devastating eruption of Mt. St. Helens draws to a close, we should realize that we have to learn to live with the ever-changing nature of our planet, not think we can change nature to accommodate us.

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