May 15, 1980
“Hey, son, would you mind going to the thermostat and turning it down a bit?,” asked Dad. With a grumble and the footfall of a growing teen still awkward with his gait, my brother tromped down the hall like a mutant buffalo. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
I was sitting in front of the tv, just about ready to watch whatever was “Must See” back then. Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Night Court were my absolute favorites. Suddenly, through the floor, a vibration occurred. Then a ripple. Finally a low throttle rumble as the house shook upon its moorings and my first thought was a sisterly eyeroll of, “What did my brother do now? All he had to do was turn the dial.”
That evening was my very first earthquake.
I was 10 years old.
My parents quickly switched the channel to our local news and sure enough, reports were coming in from all over that the Portland metro area experienced roughly a 3.0 on the Richter Scale. The epicenter was very close to Mt. Saint Helens.
By morning all thoughts of the mountain were flitted away like most ten-year-old attention spans. Little did I know then that for two months leading up to the infamous day, Mt. Saint Helens experienced up to 10,000 earthquakes. All I felt was that one.
Sunday, May 18, 1980
Calm blue sky for as far as the eyes could see. No clouds, a rare phenomena in the Pacific Northwest, greeted my spring day as I was out and about in the garden helping my Mom. She went around the front yard to start the weeding when I heard her voice. I had never heard her like that before. “Ember!,” she yelled, her shriek slathered with nerves, slight panic, and unmitigated awe. “Come here!”
I ran as quickly as I could and when I reached the front yard, my mom stood, looking out upon the horizon. I followed her gaze. What was she looking at? I then noticed the neighbors. All were out in their drive ways, gaping at something northward that I could not see.
It was silent.
“Mom?” She looked down at me and took my hand. We walked up the tallest hill in the neighborhood, my father and brother already there with binoculars and a camera. Up high, there were no houses or roofs, only a potato field which was getting prepped for phase two of the neighborhood. No towering pines. Just flat land for miles.
And standing there, as perfect and deadly and awesome as could be, was Mt. Saint Helens.
We were roughly 60 miles away and it looked like a picture perfect postcard. Mom snapped photos while I merely stared. My brain tried to wrap itself around the reality of a volcanic eruption in one’s backyard. The wind was in our favor as it blew the ash plume eastward. Portland did get a bit of a dusting (my father and brother were cleaning out the gutters for days), but it was nothing compared to the folks who were in Mt. Saint Helen’s ominous path. Volcanic ash turned day into night. Vegetation in a six mile radius was destroyed and forests were flattened. Mud slides destroyed homes and countless animals. Harry Truman, 83 years old, refused evacuation and died up on the mountain he held so dear. The last words out of U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist David Johnston’s mouth was “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” He died a few seconds later. He was thirty years old. Day Karr and his two sons were in their pick-up truck when the blast hit. Apparently he went up to get better photos of the mountain. None of these people’s bodies were found as they were vaporized upon impact.
The eruption was spectacular and devastating. St. Helen’s BOOM could be heard from miles away. Many people thought a bomb had gone off. In a way it did. What St. Helen’s left behind was pure, undiluted destruction. And she taught us that no mountain should be taken for granted.
Classic rock was pushing its way through my car speakers as I was leaving a doctor’s appointment. The sky was clear and the sun was making me wish summer would finally get here already. Driving towards an intersection I happened to see a cloud. A very familiar cloud. My heart stopped and I looked around at the cars beside me at the stoplight. Did they see it? Were they paying attention? Everyone was clueless. “I know what that is,” I whispered. “I’ve seen that plume before.” Rather than putting the pedal to the floor and driving to the highest, nearby landmass like a maniac, I went home and turned on the news instead. Mt. Saint Helens had awoken from her twenty-four year slumber and she’s not finished.
In Honor and In Memory
BLACKBURN, Reid Turner, 27, Vancouver, WA, Photographer
BOWERS, Wallace Norwood, 41, Winlock, WA (Never Recovered)
CRALL, Terry A., 21, Kelso, WA
COLTEN, Joel K., 29, Wyncote, PA
CONNER, Ronald Lee, 43, Tacoma, WA
CROFT, Clyde Andrew, 36, Roy, WA
DIAS, Jose Arturo, Woodburn, WA, Logger
DILL, Ellen Loy, 53, Kirkland, WA (Never Recovered)
DILL, Robert, 61, Kirkland, WA (Never Recovered)
EDWARDS, Arlene H., 37, Portland, OR
EDWARDS, Jolene H., 19, Portland, OR
FADDIS, Bruce Edwards, 23, Bend, OR (Never Recovered)
FITZGERALD, James F., Jr., Moscow, ID
GADWA, Thomas G., 35, Montesano, WA, Logger (Never Recovered)
HANDY, Allen R., 34, Tacoma, WA
HIATT, Paul (Never Recovered)
JOHNSTON, David A., Menlo Park, CA, USGS Employee (Never Recovered)
KARR, Day Andrew, 37, Renton, WA
KARR, Day Bradley, Renton, WA
KARR, Michael Murray, Renton, WA
KASEWETER, Robert M., 39, Portland, OR (Never Recovered)
KILLIAN, Christy Liann, Vader, WA
KILLIAN, John G., 29, Vader, WA (Never Recovered)
KIRKPATRICK, Harold (Butch), 33, Newberg, OR
KIRKPATRICK, Joyce M., 33, Newberg, OR
LANDSBURG, Robert Emerson, Portland, OR, 48, Photographer
LYNDS, Robert, 25, Kelso, WA (Never Recovered)
MARTIN, Gerald O., 64, Concrete, WA
MOORE, Gerald Lloyd, Kelso, WA
MOORE, Keith A., 37, Kelso, WA (Never Recovered)
MOORE, Shirley, 49, Kelso, WA
MORRIS, Kevin Christopher, 7, Olympia, WA
MORRIS, Michele Lea, 9, Olympia, WA
MURPHY, Edward Joseph, 62, Renton, WA (Never Recovered)
MURPHY, Eleanor Jeanne, Renton, WA (Never Recovered)
PARKER, Donald R., 45, Portland, OR (See PARKER, Richard A.)
PARKER, Jean Isabell, 56, Portland, OR (SEE PARKER, William Paul)
PARKER, Natalie Ali, Westport, WA
PARKER, Richard A., 28, Shelton, WA (See PARKER, Donald R.)
PARKER, William Paul, 46, Portland, OR (See PARKER, Jean Isabell)
PLUARD, Merlin James, 60, Toledo, WA (Never Recovered)
PLUARD, Ruth Kathleen, Toledo, WA (Never Recovered)
ROLLINS, Fred D., 58, Hawthorne, CA
ROLLINS, Margery Ellen, Hawthorne, CA
SCHMIDT, Paul F., 29, Silverton, OR
SEIBOLD, Barbara Lea, Olympia, WA
SEIBOLD, Ronald Dale, 41, Olympia, WA
SELBY, Donald James, 48, Lake Stevens, WA
SHARIPOFF, Evlanty V., Mt. Angel, OR, Logger
SKOROHODOFF, Leonty V., 30, Woodburn WA, Logger
THAYER, Dale Douglas, 26, Kelso, WA (Never Recovered)
TRUMAN, Harry R., 83, Spirit Lake, WA (Never Recovered)
TUTE, James S., Canada (Never Recovered)
TUTE, Velvetia, Canada (Never Recovered)
VARNER, Karen Marie, 21, Kelso, WA
WETHERALD, Beverly C., Portland, OR (Never Recovered)
ZIMMERMAN, Klaus, Spokane, WA
Source of names is from HistoryLink.org Essay 5457