Registered: Feb 2003
Local time: 10:29 PM
Location: The Seven Seas or the Outer Banks.
Wash. Locals Keep Eye on Mt. St. Helens
2 hours, 42 minutes ago U.S. National - AP (as of 4:30PM)
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press Writer
PULLMAN, Wash. - Glenn Johnson remembers running outside with canisters to catch some of the volcanic ash that began falling on Pullman after Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. He wanted a souvenir.
"Little did I know I would be shoveling ash for a week and a half," recalled Johnson, now mayor of this town near the Idaho state line.
Across the Northwest, veterans of the 1980 eruption were keeping a wary eye on the volcano as it ominously rocked with earthquakes, then belched a plume of steam and ash into the sky around noon on Friday. Experts said the small eruption may not be the last.
"The history of the volcano suggests it could be an opening salvo and we'll see more events like this," said Jeff Wynn, the chief scientist for volcano hazards at the federal Cascade Volcano Observatory. He called Friday's brief eruption a "throat-clearing."
The 1980 eruption killed 57 people, mostly clustered near the mountain, and volcanic activity continued until 1986.
Much of the cement-like ash fell on eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana as thousands of travelers became stranded. Schools and businesses closed. Mountains of ash had to be moved and dumped.
In an effort to be better prepared this time, local governments across the region have been reviewing their disaster plans. The state Emergency Management Division, much maligned for poor performance in 1980, activated its Emergency Operations Center Wednesday and will keep it staffed round-the-clock, spokesman Rob Harper said.
Officials hope to avoid a repeat of the events that started at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980.
Shaken by an earthquake, the north face of the mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. A mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, dumping more than 520 million tons of dark, gray ash from Yakima to Bozeman, Mont.
The eruption lasted 9 hours.
The ash turned day into night. Grocery stores ran out of food. Surgical masks to cover the nose and mouth were in short supply. There were 2,500 people stranded in the town of Ritzville by 5 to 7 inches of ash.
Ash weighed heavily on roofs, forcing residents to shovel it off. Communities struggled to find places to dump it all.
Patty Phillips was riding a motorcycle from Spokane west to Moses Lake, and was forced by the ash to hunker down for two days in the small town of Davenport.
Now she lives in Lind, a tiny town about 75 miles southwest of Spokane that has a wry highway sign proclaiming "Drop in, Mount St. Helens did."
Phillips is not too worried about the new rumblings from the volcano, but she isn't taking any chances.
"I asked my husband to stock up with milk," she said Thursday, remembering that commodity was in short supply in grocery stores after the last eruption.
Susan Cuff still has a small jar of ash she collected as a souvenir when she was a college student at the University of Montana in Missoula.
"I stayed home and watched it fall like snow," said Cuff, now the spokeswoman for the health department in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
After the eruption, there were persistent rumors the ash might become acid when mixed with water. People worried about breathing it into their lungs. They weren't sure if they should use water to wash off the ash, or push it off roofs and vehicles with brooms.
The fine ash was hard on motor vehicles, clogging air filters, scratching windshields, and mucking up bearings. Six Spokane city buses burned up their engines within two days.
Cuff said officials are better prepared this time to warn people with respiratory problems to stay inside, and not to operate motor vehicles because the ash can damage the engine.
State officials insist that modern communication systems and emergency plans will make them better prepared if Mount St. Helens erupts again.
Still, Johnson's enduring memory of the 1980 eruption was that emergency management news was very slow coming out of the state capital, leaving communities to fend for themselves.
"There's a lot of silent hope that it all blows on Olympia because we got no help from them last time," Johnson said.
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Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument