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  • Writer's pictureMLWA 7

40 Years since the eruption. How Mount St. Helens affected the state.

It was 40 years ago today, shortly after 8:30 a.m. on May 18, 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington state. The eruption would quickly become the deadliest in U.S. history, killing 57 people. The destruction caused more than $1 billion in damage.

The first sign of an eruption was recorded March 20, 1980, when a magnitude 4.2 earthquake caused snow avalanches to occur on parts of the volcano, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Between then and May 18, there were more than 2,800 earthquakes recorded at the volcano. A bulge began to develop on the volcano's left side.

Pictures of the downtown Moses Lake and Metro from 1980 by Pixel Fusion Imagery

The morning of the erouption sparked a magnitude 4.2 earthquake that will shake a majority portion of the state even here in Central Washington.

Tourist business was hurt, most everyone agrees. In an article written by The Washington Post, vacancy signs adorn the motels, and the recreational vehicle campsite has rows and rows of empty spaces along the lake. Ash covered the 120-mile Moses Lake shoreline, the piers and docks, and a thick layer on the dunes just south of the city has been hardened by the rains.

"A lot of people heard that it's terrible over here and are not coming," said bookstore owner Faye Maslen.

Photos from the Wenatchee World taken around the Wenatchee metro region

Beyond the economic impact, the Mount St. Helens holocaust, as one newspaper called it, took a psychological toll. In Moses Lake, Portland and Seattle -- which hasn't even been hit with significant amounts of ash -- the volcano has challenged the ideal of the good life in the Pacific Northwest. That Sunday morning was just an ordinary day. People commuted to their jobs, sunday service, or do family/friend lunches. In the matter of a blink of an eye cotton ball clouds that look to have been collecting cigarette smoke started to hung overhead, they turned purple, then to an ashy grey then an eerie black. The sky quickly darkened turning midday to midnight, lightning began to crackle throughout the sky. By noon, the city was blanketed in pitch black darkness. Street lights flashed on, but the atmosphere then became so black it was impossible to see the lights try to illuminate the roads.

One individual was just a little girl when the eruption occurred said a man came into the Sendero Life Center Church yelling "It's the end of the world!" People rushed their best to get back home, they were stunned but intrigued by the strange changes.

The Post added to their article that one young night-shift worker at the local frozen-potato factory has become legendary for his addled response to the ash. Awakening to find it dark, he jumped into his clothes and sped to work, thinking he had overslept. When he got there, he noticed two strange things -- he did not know any of the other workers, and they were all leaving as fast as they could.

Moses Lake was a major farming community then with a small population of 11,000 was one of the worst-hit towns in the country by the mountain's explosion. The damage caused $29.5 million to crops alone. The story of Moses Lake is a chronicle and turned into a nightmare.

According to the Washington Post, An estimated two million tons fell, inundating the trailer park in the middle of town, contractor Bert McAtte's backyard tennis court, swimming pools, parks, schoolyards, and the fields of winter and spring wheat, feed corn and dry peas that farmer Dale Walker had planted. Schools closed, never to reopen in the remaining three weeks of the term. Most businesses were shut down, with only a pharmacy, some grocery stores, the hospital and the city government still functioning.

The roads were impassable and people stayed at home.

Ash blanketed the runway of the old Larson Air Force Base outside town, closed in the mid-1960s and reopened as an industrial park where Japan Air Lines trains pilots on 747s.

It was as if a huge practical joke had been played on Moses Lake, as if someone had hooked the nozzle to the wrong end of some gigantic vacuum cleaner in the sky and let it spit out sandy gray powder that clung to carpets and clothes and made people itch and sneeze...when Japan Air Lines told city officials they would make a $50,000 donation for the cleanup, the town feared that they would hand over the contribution, then announce their departure.

City officials, their wives and air lines officials gathered for a solemn ceremony to receive the contribution. The air was filled with tension. When an airlines vice president announced that Japan stay, there were audible sighs. Bodie spoke, his voice breaking. He said he and the mayor lived in the flight path of the 747s and they loved to hear the roar of the engines. Moses Lake Mayor Robert Hill then presented airline officials with a small, ornamental ceramic pagoda that had sparkling sequins pasted on it. He said it had been made in Moses Lake -- out of volcanic ash.

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