Mount St. Helens, WA Volcano Eruption, May 1980
MOUNTAIN ERUPTS; 6 DEAD.
Vancouver, Wash. (UPI) -- Mount St. Helens exploded in a giant, killer eruption Sunday that blew 600 feet off its summit, set off huge forest fires, sent "walls of water" racing down a river valley and spewed pungent ash clouds over much of Eastern Washington.
At least six people were killed fleeing the eruption, and many more were feared dead, possibly buried under tons of ash and mud.
The eruption was by far the largest and most spectacular outburst since the mountain awoke from 123 years of dormancy March 27. Officials ordered about 2,000 people evacuated from the base of the volcano.
Officials said mudflows and flooding on the northwest side of the mountain wiped out large swaths of forest.
"It's totally devastated," said MAJ. BILL HEWES of the Air Force Reserve in Portland, who was coordinating serch and rescue efforts. "It's like being next to ground zero in an atomic bomb explosion."
HEWES said his helicopter pilots had spotted six bodies northwest of the mountain in the Toutle River Valley -- three in one car, two lying near a Weyerhaeuser Co. logging facility 12 miles from the mountain and another on the banks of the Toutle River.
HEWES predicted the death toll would go much higher. "I would imagine by the time the total comes in we'll be looking at some fairly significant figures, maybe up to 50," he said.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey reported the violent eruption early Sunday blew the top off the 9,677-foot peak, creating a new crater 1.5 miles wide.
Geographical Survey spokeswoman MINDY BRUGMAN said flows of hot ash and gases had reached Spirit Lake, a three-mile long, heart-shaped body of water at the mountain's 3,200-foot level. There were unconfirmed reports the lake was gone.