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1980: Turning day into night
Mount St Helens erupted at 0832 on 18 May 1980, sending a plume of ash 15 miles (24 km) into the sky.

The force of the explosion caused the north face of the mountain to collapse and devastated a huge area of forest around the volcano.

Volcanic debris was blown across north-west America, turning skies dark hundreds of kilometres away.

Fifty-seven people died in the eruption and 2,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

Your memories


We lived about 35 miles to the south of the peak. The mushroom cloud of ash was dark and sinister. It created its own weather with lighting bolts highlighted against the dark gray stalk of the mushroom.

There had been many small eruptions over several months leading up to the blast, and we thought this was another, just bigger.

Because the blast went sideways to the north in the opposite direction from us, we did not hear the blast or see its effects, just the cloud.

Later we were shocked to see the extent of the devastation when we watched television reports that afternoon. We owned a Volkswagen Beetle at the time, and I was cleaning off the volcanic ash with a garden hose.

My six-year-old daughter wanted to help and with her hand gently brushed off ash on the bumper. The "ash" is really a type of sand, and very abrasive.

The chrome bumper was scratched with just the little pressure she her hand applied and the scratches were visible years later.

Everyone bought disposable painters' face masks to protect against breathing the ash, since smaller eruptions continued for several months. We still have some.
Dick Lloyd, USA

I was just three years old, almost four, when the mountain erupted.

It's one of my earliest memories.

I lived in Ellensburg, Washington, a college town about 100 miles north east of the mountain.

We were getting ready to go to church that morning when someone from the church stopped and told us the news.

We didn't go.

Dad filled the bathtub with water because we didn't know if the water supply would be disrupted.

My dad went outside briefly and when he returned there were bits of ash in his hair.
Marcus Stubbles, USA
The sky was dark as night all day.

My dad went outside briefly and when he returned there were bits of ash in his hair.

My mom says that I did nothing all day but draw simple crayon pictures of erupting volcanoes.

She still has some of them.

They still sell little vials of Mt St. Helens' ash to tourists.

I want to laugh every time I see them. We were still cleaning it out of cracks and crevices years later. It's not as though the stuff is rare or precious.
Marcus Stubbles, USA

At the time I was four, my sister was three years old and my brother was a year old.

We, along with some family friends, went camping out at Porter Creek, and were awakened early in the morning by the park rangers telling us that Mt St Helens had just blown and that we needed to get out of there as soon as possible.

There wasn't a whole lot of time to panic - we were all too busy trying to get dressed, hurrying to get out of there.

We all realized how lucky we really were to have made it out alive
Jamie Walt
My dad opened the camper door and what we saw was totally shocking. It was pitch black dark, the air was so thick with ash and smoke you couldn't see a foot in front of yourself.

We were being pelted with what looked like huge globs of mud. My dad ushered all of us into the truck and told us to wait there, to keep the windows rolled up and to remain calm.

We sped off, driving in total darkness.

Unfortunately a very close friend of the family that was camping with us, Rob Payne, didn't make it out. All we can surmise is that he wanted to stay behind to get some pictures, but he lost his life trying to do it.

Later we went back up just to survey everything and see the total devastation created by Mount St Helens - boy was that a hard pill to swallow.

It was absolutely horrendous to see.

We stood on the banks of what was once the lake and river. It was a huge mud pit, the water was water no more, it was thick dark dried mud, there were no trees, no animals, no nothing. It was like time had stopped.

I think at that precise moment we all realized how lucky we really were to have made it out alive.

If I take anything away from this experience it is this: you have never seen total devastation until you have seen what Mount St Helens did in 1980.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of the families that lost their loved ones because of this.
Jamie Walt, USA

I grew up in Kent, Wa. and was 12 years old when she blew.

I remember waking up and looking out my bedroom window to see everything grey. It was very exciting at first for a child, not realising all the damage brought with it.

It was a very fine ash. My Aunt living in Colfax, Wa. said she came out to find the day had turned into night.

It was upsetting to see the damage the eruption had made to the wildlife and forestry around the area.
Tina Barnwell, UK

I was four at the time of the eruption and living in Puyallup.

I remember that I had dreams about the eruption for months afterwards. It scared me but it was also amazing to be able to see it. We had a VERY good view from our back yard, as I recall, and the neighbourhood was covered in ash for what seemed like ages.
Casee Wilson, USA

When the mountain blew in 1980 I was just 6 years old but I remember the day clearly.

I lived near Yakima Washington which was the hardest hit of the major cities near Mt St Helens. I was in church that morning when we were released early due to the eruption.

When I came outside it was near 10am but yet it was turning dark.

It was a very strange feeling. The next day I remember it looked like a gray snow field in our yard.

Today my daughter is 6 years old and the mountain has blown again - albeit, no where near the same as before.
Jamie Simmons, USA - 1 October 2004

18 May was a beautiful sunny day in Newport, and our family was eating breakfast when we heard what sounded like blasting in the hills north of town: "Boom... Ba ba boom... Ba boom".

My immediate reaction was "Mount St Helens!" Like everyone else, I had been following the news closely in the preceding weeks.

I'm not sure why, but I grabbed the only tape recorder my parents had, and put it in my sister's window box outside her bedroom window on the north side of the house. The booms continued for about 15 minutes, with several booms a minute for the first five minutes, then one every few minutes.


Considering that it is about 140 miles from Mount St Helens to Newport, our first reaction was great horror - if we could hear it from 140 miles away, in our imagination, all of SW Washington must now be a gigantic smouldering crater. And what about Portland? Is the city buried under ash? Is lava flowing through the streets?

We turned on the local radio station, and they weren't saying a thing about it. We hesitantly called my grandparents in Portland - if Portland was still there...

They picked up the phone, but no, they hadn't heard a thing and they couldn't see any eruption.

We learned later that we were hearing explosions from the mountain as the sound bounced off the stratosphere - which explained why people far from the mountain heard them and people close by did not. I believe people in British Columbia heard the booms as well.
Dave Miller, USA

I was a freshman at Washington State University, about 300 miles east of the mountain. I had an English paper due on Monday so I was in the library working on it.

I heard the mountain had erupted but didn't think it was particularly relevant. When I left the library at 1600 though, it was as black as a cloudy midnight. A pall of grey was in the air and very fine ash was everywhere else. Hallelujah class was cancelled and I finished my paper.
William Crichton, USA

I was three years old that summer, living in Medicine Hat, Alberta. While I don't remember the eruption itself, I've heard that people felt it in Southern Alberta. What I do remember is travelling through Washington State later that summer, and seeing the ash everywhere. I remember my dad trying to explain to me where it came from.
Tannis, Canada

I was living in Spokane WA at the time of the eruption. At noon the ash started falling and it became as dark as midnight on a moonless night.

We wore surgical masks for a week
Teresa Courtney, USA
The ash fell actively for three hours and when the light returned, the bird song started like it was daybreak. We wore surgical masks for a week.

The only places open were hospitals and grocery stores. The floors in the grocery stores became covered with the fine ash. We didn't know if we could wash away the ash with water or if it would turn into sulphuric acid.

Finally they let us do it but the water levels were falling, so they had to create a schedule of alternating days so that there would be less pressure on the water supply. Very interesting and amazing how 250 miles away it had a dramatic impact on our day to day lives.
Teresa Courtney, USA

I was seven years of age during the eruption and lived in Eugene, Oregon at the time. I was not able to view the actual eruption in person, but I do remember the Portland news broadcasts with the huge ash cloud in the background of the shot, as well as images and warnings about ash clouds falling like rain.

We received a small dusting of ash so far south. Most of the cloud was blown into Montana.

My parents retired a few years back and now live in Castle Rock, Washington. Castle rock is located along the Toutle River which carried the huge mud flow from the mountain during the eruption. Even though 24 years have passed, the effects of the eruption are still seen along the river and the towns.
Rachel Dickinson, US

I was 14 years old at the time and my father had sent me to boarding school in Portland. I remember I had been there only for a few days and before that had never seen snow, given the fact that I was from the Caribbean.

Then the morning after eruption I woke up and was awfully excited to see what I thought was snow, around 12 inches of it. It was really dark outside and cold and I was certain that it was snow. I was later told that day of the eruption, but the image of the moment is fixed in my head.
Jose M Pagan, Puerto Rico

I lived with my family near Vancouver, BC. At around 0830, we heard a loud bang and all the windows shook. It was just like a sonic boom going off nearby.

We actually went to look in the back yard to make sure a boulder hadn't somehow rolled down a hill to hit the house. It wasn't until later that we realized we, and many other of my friends as it turned out, had heard the eruption.
Peter Scott, Canada

I was 17 years old and lived in Portland, Oregon - approximately 45 miles SW of Mount St Helens.

On that fateful Sunday morning we had the television on as we were getting ready to go to church. The program was interrupted with news of the eruption (which we did not hear as it blew towards the north and we were on the SW side). We immediately ran a half-mile up a street to a highway bridge, and we were able to watch the eruption as it happened.

I will never forget that momentous occasion. I have lived in other states prone to hurricanes or tornadoes, but I was always able to say, "At least there aren't any volcanoes nearby!"
Robert Hansen, USA

I was in flight training and aircraft mechanics school in southern Arizona then and we got as much news from the FAA warnings to pilots as we did from the news media.

I remember one airliner making an emergency landing at the first big enough airport it could find, because its jet engines swallowed the extremely corrosive ash, as well as other reports from small aircraft we talked to on radio. One plane owner tried to clean out the inside of his wings with a water hose, but the volcanic ash immediately hardens like concrete when it gets wet.
Michael Lebron, then USA now Mongolia

I was in Vancouver B.C. when this occurred. At 0830 on that Sunday morning I woke up with a start, not really knowing why. I heard the news shortly after. Hours later I went downstairs to get into my car and found that it was covered in a fine greyish powder.

Distance from that eruption, about 150 miles. I swear that I heard the explosion.
Jenny, Canada

I was 14 years old and living in Portland, Oregon. Having camped on Spirit Lake I was struck by sadness at the loss of wilderness in a paradise I would never see again: the cold clear water and lush flora.

My mother collected ferns from the forest to fill her bathroom planters with memories of hikes and adventures of bathing in the most frigid waterfalls.

My Father met Harry Truman at his lodge and could almost understand his desire to stay with the lake and the mountain through the inevitable; he was aged, not necessarily crazy as was portrayed.

I watched the eruption from the west hills of Portland at the top of Council Crest Park as plumes of smoke and ash infiltrated the horizon and coated the buildings, cars, trees and street gutters. We collected ash in spice bottles to send to family and friends.

The following year my family chartered a plane to fly over the mountain for a birdseye view of the destruction. It didn't take long for plant life to sprout and flourish in the rich and hardy terrain.

Nature doesn't forget 18 May 1980 and neither will those of us who were fortunate to witness one of its most magnificent performances.
Elise Burns, USA

I was only young at the time of the eruption but I remember it like it was yesterday.

We were staying nearby at the time for our holiday. I didn't hear the eruption but the air was full of dust and ash.

My mother knew we had to move out of the area. We moved further away from where we was staying at the time.

There was so many people that actually could not believe their eyes. I remember it being morning and thinking it was night the amount of ash and dust in the air turned night into day.

The land by the volcano was like the moon. There was nothing living not like the beautiful lake and trees and wildlife that was there before just everything was wrecked.
Jodie, New Zealand

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Pic: USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory
Part of the mountain collapsed during the eruption


Pic: USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory
Two thousand people were forced to leave the area

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