Tuesday, May 18, 2010

[Resources] It was 30 years ago today

Thirty years ago today, at 8:32AM, Mount Saint Helens blew up. I remember because I was 12 and living in a suburb of Seattle. The blast shook our house and there was a fine layer of ash on our front porch. 57 people died that day and a whole wilderness area was devastated. The ash went miles into the air, spreading to nearly a dozen states, and buried the surrounding countryside, choking rivers, damaging machinery, and falling on the people. The eruption was the topic of conversation for years to come. In fact, most people who live in the shadow of the mountain today still remember and there are lahar warning devices that let people know if a massive mud flow is heading towards them.

The sheer violence of the eruption, the chaos afterwards, in both worlds - man and nature - were the stuff of most apocalyptic fiction. Ash and mud flew from the mountain. Rescue efforts were launched, aborted and tried again. Rivers clogged with debris threatened interstate bridges and destroyed a few of them. Of the 57 dead, most were not found and the mountain became their tomb. Several were celebrities prior to the event and some after. Harry Truman, the crusty owner of the Mount Saint Helens Lodge, refused to leave his home in the days prior and died with his 16 cats. There are several folk songs about him. U.S. Geologist David Johnston, observing St. Helens from the Coldwater II observation post, was also a casualty, probably right after uttering those famous words over the radio: "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" Another observer, Jerry Martin, saw Johnston's post get overwhelmed, radioing "It's gonna get me, too. I can't get out of here ...." before he, too, went silent.

Mt. St. Helens joins other great volcanic catastrophes that, though it lacks the total destruction that Mount Vesuvius meted out to the citizens and cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ancient Rome, still has a lot of drama. A game with characters in the shadow of a soon-to-erupt volcano can add a bit of the furies of nature to any setting.

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