mount st. helens

Christopher Anderson / Courtesy of Spokesman-Review Archive

NOTE: This story is a collaboration between the public media Northwest News Network, Spokane Public Radio, Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Spokesman-Review.

The black-and-white images of the 16-mile high stanchion of ash give a false impression.

The photos of Mount St. Helens’ eruption taken on May 18, 1980, suggest a cataclysm that remains in the past, safely ensconced in history and available for warm recollection of when the world exploded and we survived.

But that’s wrong.

Wes Peck / Flickr

In the days leading up to the May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption 40 years ago, Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies tried to prevent people from getting too close to the growling, shaking mountain.

Not everyone listened, and public pressure grew great enough for law enforcement to relent. The day before the volcano blew and killed 57 people — making it the most fatal natural disaster in modern Washington state history — deputies let people go to their cabins around Spirit Lake. 

Courtesy Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins was a first grader on a school camping trip near Mount St. Helens when the volcano erupted on May 18, 1980. Austin recently unearthed his scrapbook from that time and interviewed several others who were on that memorable trip. On this 40th anniversary of the eruption, Austin recounts their harrowing escape.

On May 18, 1980, I was 6 years old and about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Mount St. Helens.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

There were once big plans for many public events to mark the 40th anniversary of the catastrophic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The coronavirus pandemic blew up those plans, but many are resurfacing online this week and next.

Wes Peck / Flickr

Scientists monitoring Mount St. Helens confirmed Wednesday that magma is on the rise and "re-pressurizing" the volcano in southwest Washington.