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Three decades ago this date…

Seattle PI--Grant M. Haller
Seattle PI--Grant M. Haller

Good morning, Netizens...


Where were you when Mount St. Helens blew its stack more than thirty years ago? I've always wondered how the Seattle PI got some of its breathtaking photographs of the early stages of the volcanic eruption, and in retrospect now I know it was a staff photographer who was sent by plane to get pictures, and thus cemented a place in journalistic history for himself.


As for me, I was deep in the heart of the Yakima Basin doing some software research for a client and about to head home via Ellensburg, Moses Lake and back to Spokane. It was just before dawn, as I recall, and I was driving in the pre-dawn light on an otherwise innocuous Sunday morning, and although I was aware that St. Helens was active, nothing could have prepared me for how I was to spend the rest of my day once the mountain came to life, erupted and changed the lives of so many people forever.


At 8:32 AM PDT the mountain literally blew its stack, and my only initial awareness of it was when a boulder, about half the size of a Volkswagen, bounced off the Interstate highway about a quarter-mile ahead of me, and when I slowed my truck down to figure this event out, as I turned I could see what others have called “the cloud” which told me that St. Helens had popped its cork, and I needed to get out .. FAST.


By the time I pulled into Ellensburg in the beginnings of the ash flow, and remembering a trick an old friend of mine once told me about volcanic ash, I stopped at the 7-11 and bought nearly their entire supply of women's pantyhose. In retrospect, that was the only trick I used, one that allowed me to keep driving through the ash clouds, and eventually make it back home. Had I not known the trick of stuffing pantyhose or nylons down the throat of my carburetor, or better yet, known of a few side roads around the various roadblocks the Highway Patrol erected along the Interstate, I probably would have been stranded, as so many people were, somewhere along the road for days, perhaps even weeks.


As fate would have it, my poor red Ford pickup suffered considerable damage despite my intrepidity and cleverness, and by the time I pulled into my Stevens County residence later that day, all the paint on the front of the cab was gone, leaving bare metal, the chrome on the front bumper was badly glazed, as was the windshield, all the victims of the ash I had driven through making my way home.


Today, three decades ago, touched a lot of lives, and in my reverie this morning, I cannot help but wonder about how things could have been different. So, looking back those many years, where were you when you first realized Mount St. Helens had erupted?



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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.