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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Waiting for the volcano to burst
By Kari Browne
Mount St Helens

It is like watching a kettle boil. The closer we watch, the quieter the volcano has become. Perhaps not entirely - her mood tends to swing quite a bit. One geologist described the volcano like a roller-coaster - seismic and volcanic activity varies day by day, and indeed hour by hour.

Media teams wait as Mount St Helens is shroud in rain clouds, 6 October 2004
Tourists and journalists fear rain clouds will spoil the view
Geologists and seismologists believe there is a strong possibility of a large magmatic eruption at some point. But they also continue to stress that volcanoes are extremely unpredictable.

As thick clouds mask the enormous volcano, journalists, park rangers and tourists are perched for yet another day of watching and waiting. Anticipation and excitement has drawn strangers together, each theorising and simply betting on when the "big" eruption will happen.

Fourteen-year-old Jessica McMann drove to Mount St Helens from Vancouver, Canada, with her mother, to experience the fury of the mountain first-hand.

"I don't really like nature, but this is cool," she says, elated to be missing a day of school to view the restless volcano and desperately hoping it would "go off" while she was there.

Watching and waiting

Tourists continue to stream into the viewing areas, several miles from the active volcano's base, in the hope of seeing a live eruption.

Konrad Hegener, a tourist from Switzerland, has witnessed three small eruptions since the weekend, and hopes to see the big one before he returns home.

"We have big mountains where I'm from, but they don't erupt... So this is exciting," he says.

But no-one knows when the "big one" will happen.

As the mild weather turns into rain and heavy fog, the entire volcano disappears. The surrounding valley becomes shrouded in grey clouds that hide the main attraction.

Tourists grow anxious, many waiting in their warm cars, hoping the fog and mist will clear.

Map of Washington State
"What if it erupts while we're sitting here and we can't see anything?" says Amanda Lewis, who drove from Olympia, Washington, with her mother.

"It was a long drive - I'd like to see something."

Her point was not lost among the hoards of local, national and international media representatives hoping the imminent blast would not happen while visibility was near zero. After all, how would the cameras distinguish between grey rain clouds and grey ash clouds?

As spectators continue to gather at viewing sights, each hope they will be able to tell their friends and family that they witnessed a real volcanic eruption - steam, magma, rocks and fury shooting from the core of Mount St Helens.

But for now, it is a waiting game. Even the experts refuse to predict when Mother Nature will decide to let loose.

Watch footage of the volcano as it spews out ash

Mount St Helens throws up ash
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In pictures: US volcano on alert
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Warning over US volcano eruption
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Concern over rumbling US volcano
30 Sep 04 |  Americas


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