Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens
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Survival narrative meets scientific, natural, and social history in the riveting story of a volcanic disaster.
For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, sightseers, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings in Mount St. Helens, part of the chain of western volcanoes fueled by the 700-mile-long Cascadia fault. Still, no one was prepared when an immense eruption took the top off of the mountain and laid waste to hundreds of square miles of verdant forests in southwestern Washington State. The eruption was one of the largest in human history, deposited ash in eleven U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, and caused more than one billion dollars in damage. It killed fifty-seven people, some as far as thirteen miles away from the volcano’s summit.
Shedding new light on the cataclysm, author Steve Olson interweaves the history and science behind this event with page-turning accounts of what happened to those who lived and those who died.
Powerful economic and historical forces influenced the fates of those around the volcano that sunny Sunday morning, including the construction of the nation’s railroads, the harvest of a continent’s vast forests, and the protection of America’s treasured public lands. The eruption of Mount St. Helens revealed how the past is constantly present in the lives of us all. At the same time, it transformed volcanic science, the study of environmental resilience, and, ultimately, our perceptions of what it will take to survive on an increasingly dangerous planet.
Rich with vivid personal stories of lumber tycoons, loggers, volcanologists, and conservationists, Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative built from the testimonies of those closest to the disaster, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.
8 pages of color illustrations; 7 black-and-white illustrations; 8 maps
until by 1905 it owned a million and a half acres of Pacific Northwest forestland. Of course, the company would have to build facilities and pay men to cut, saw, and sell all that wood. But everything left over would be the sweet, sweet fruit of capitalism. Land owned predominantly by Weyerhaeuser in southwestern Washington State THE ABDUCTION GREAT WEALTH HAS ITS PRIVILEGES—AND ITS PERILS. On May 24, 1935, the great-grandson of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, nine-year-old George
occupying the core of the volcano, the surrounding porous edifice, and perhaps also in shallow magma chambers. A catastrophic event of the kind observed at Bandai-San . . . must be regarded as a legitimate possibility.” Voight’s observations and recommendations generated intense discussions among the geologists. But in the end his speculations about a lateral blast were treated as just one more possible scenario. Everyone had ideas about what could happen at the volcano. They argued their
would have to be an exception. Outside the red zone, Osmond and his colleagues drew another line that generally followed roads ten or so miles away from the volcano’s peak. The area between the two lines they called the blue zone. Here loggers and property owners could enter during the day if they had permission, which generally meant acknowledging the risks they were taking. But a problem again arose on the western and northwestern sides of the volcano. Extending the blue zone into Weyerhaeuser
and cooked by the ash cloud and then buried under the north-fork avalanche. Several people taking photographs from ridgelines to the west and northwest of the mountain were blown from their viewpoints and found hundreds of yards from their vehicles. In almost every case, the victims died quickly, either from breathing in ash or from the force of the blast. THE FLOODS THE BLAST WAS THE MOST IMMEDIATE THREAT TO THE PEOPLE around the mountain, but other dangers followed. Sunday morning, Venus
55 “You mean to tell us”: Thompson, 34. 55 “I suppose that is not an unusual phenomenon”: Brown, 207. 55 Five years earlier, Mount Baker: Hodge, Sharp, and Marts, 221–48. 56 Many of the problems: Saarinen and Sell, 29–34. 56 “I’d give them facts”: Thompson, 42. 57 But starting on March 31: Robert Decker, 817. 57 On April 1, a new eruption: Foxworthy and Hill, 22. 58 It had three zones: Mullineaux, 189. 60 In the late winter and early spring: National Oceanic and Atmospheric