On This Day: Mount St. Helens Erupts, Causing 57 Deaths and Massive Devastation in 1980

by Halle Ames

On this day 41 years ago, Mount St. Helens in Washington state erupted, causing 57 deaths and mass destruction throughout the state.

Those of you alive on May 18, 1980, can probably recall this unfortunate day with ease.

May 18, 1980: 8:32 a.m.

At 8:32 a.m., an earthquake from under the mountain awoke the sleeping giant. Following the quake, a landslide sent rock, snow, and ice racing down the mountainside at speeds over 200 mph. The landslide flattened everything in its path, with some areas under 600 feet of snow from an avalanche.

Mount St. Helens erupted after two months of earthquakes and other seismic activity. According to Seattle Pi, ash from the explosion shot over 80,000 feet in the air or roughly 15 miles in just 15 minutes. Lava quickly followed. Anything within 19-miles was destroyed with the molten rock, including the lives of 57 people.

The hot ash then fell from the sky like snow. Nearby areas saw up to ten inches, however, places over 300 miles away reported half an inch of ash from Mount St. Helens. People in New Mexico and Minnesota alike recalled debris as it continued to circle the globe for the next two weeks.

The blast from Mount St. Helens caused over a billion dollars in damage to the area. Houses and bridges were demolished in Skamania County, along with 185 miles of highway.

Mount St. Helens Today

How big was the eruption? Well, prior to the top of Mount St. Helens getting blown into the air, the peak was the fifth-highest in Washington state. After, the volcano dropped to the 30th highest peak.

Since the unforeseen 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, scientists are not taking any chances. It is now considered the only mountain with a “sufficient” amount of monitoring equipment. Some of this includes 25 monitors and 20 GPS stations within 12 miles of the volcano, as well as webcams and gas monitors.

As of 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey listed Mount St. Helens in the top 18 most threatening volcanoes in the United States.

Other Washington state volcanoes that made the list include Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak.

Today, the damage from the 1980 blast of Mount St. Helens is still visible in the area. However, signs of life peak through, but areas near the volcano remain desolate.