A minor earthquake at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the bulging and weakened north side of Mount St. Helens to collapse into the largest landslide ever recorded. The gas, steam, lava, and pulverized rock that it exposed, exploded toward Spirit Lake. Then a column of ash rose 80,000 feet into the air.
I was twenty-five at the time and worked as an assistant manager at a drugstore in Centralia, less than seventy-five miles northwest, as the ash falls. But the winds were blowing east that day. Friends as far away as Indiana sent pictures of their cars covered with dust. Those of us in Centralia watched the awesome display of nature’s might from vantage points around town.
As the day progressed we learned that entire forests near the volcano had been leveled, homes and bridges were swept away in the resulting flood and over fifty people died.
But in Centralia that day, no ash fell.
The following Sunday was when Mount St. Helens came to Centralia. At 2:30 a.m. the mountain erupted again.
My wife and I were asleep, along with our infant son, but some time before dawn the phone rang. My wife picked it up. “Hello?”
“Lorraine, do you have any windows open?” my mother asked.
“Close them. Mount St. Helens erupted again and we’re getting covered with ash.”
While Lorraine secured the house, I went outside. Standing on the covered porch with the lights off the darkness was so total I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. With my foot I felt for the steps. It felt like snow falling on me.
After a few steps onto the sidewalk, I returned to the house before getting lost.
It was well after nine in the morning before there was enough light to take the pictures seen here. We escaped the worst of the mountain’s fury, but those of us who were there will never forget that May.