Mount St. Helens is starting to rumble again in Washington with a spike in seismic activity recorded at the volcano more than four decades after its deadly eruption…
More than 400 earthquakes have been detected beneath the surface of the volcano in recent months. There have been more than 2,000 earthquakes recorded at the site since 2010.
Specialized equipment has detected that magma has been flowing through chambers deep underground, causing the volcano to recharge.
There are fears the earthquakes could lead to another massive explosion reminiscent of 1980s eruption that left 57 people dead and permanently altered the area’s ecosystem.
‘Short-term increases in earthquake rates are common at Mount St. Helens and are considered part of the background seismicity,’ the US Geological Survey said, trying to calm fears.
Officials added there were no signs of an impending eruption.
Concern is spiked when earthquakes happen near the Mount, but the recharges can happen for many years without an eruption.
Many of the recently recorded quakes registered at less than one on the Richter scale, meaning they were too small to be felt on the Earth’s surface. The largest earthquake that recently took place measured at a 2.4 magnitude on August 27, 2023.
However, in 1980, small earthquakes were recorded at the site just before the deadly eruption.
On May 18, 1980, residents flooded the area as they sat in open fields and rooftops as rumors of a volcanic eruption spread. Millions all over the world waited around for two months to see what would happen next.
But on that morning, at 8.32am, the results turned out to be deadly as a magnitude-5 earthquake struck, causing the volcano to lose its cryptodome and erupt.
Those in the area had nowhere to take cover.
The volcano exploded sideways and sent an enormous landslide of a super-heated mix of ash, rock fragments and gas flowing downslope. The ash and gas then rose and blocked the sun, turning the sky completely dark.
Venus Dergan told Portland Monthly she and her boyfriend, Roald Reitan, were camping on the south fork of the Toutle River, just 30 miles from the volcano.
They woke up to a blaring alarm from the nearby town of Toutle and said they didn’t hear the eruption but saw water rush toward them.
‘We were lucky that we got out of the tent when we did. They probably would have never found us.
‘We would’ve been buried alive,’ Dergan said.
Destructive mudflows, also known as lahars, swept up homes and trucks as officials closed bridges and stalled railroad track operations.
Most of the debris from the seismic event turned westward, down the North Fork Toutle River and formed a mound of deposit.
The total avalanche volume equaled a measurement of 1million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Trees were also blown to the ground or scorched by the brutally hot lava, leaving the once-dense forest virtually empty.
The volcanic ash fell like snow throughout Washington, Idaho and western Montana. Officials had to close highways for weeks and airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights.
In the days following the devastation, an estimated 540million tons of ash drifted up from the structure and settled over a total of seven states.
The aftermath also drew researchers from around the world as they began to study the impacts of the ash, and navigated ways to clean up the farmlands, roads and water treatment facilities.
The ash itself left a lasting impact on human, animal and plant life. When volcanic ash is dispersed it can cause respiratory and eye issues, along with skin irritation.
Toxic gases like carbon dioxide and fluorine commonly found in ash directly affected crops, animals and caused human illness.
The disastrous eruption also caused large amounts of mud, water and debris to intrude on banks and flooded low-lying valleys. Rock sediment clogged channels in the Toutle, Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers.
To this day, those rivers continue to transport this sediment downstream ten times greater than before the 1980 eruption, the United States Geological Survey reported.
The natural disaster killed thousands of animals and caused over $1billion in damage.
One of the people killed that day was Robert Landsburg, a 48-year-old photographer who was just a few miles from the summit.
The Seattle-born man dedicated himself to his craft up until the very moment he died, as he knew there was no way out of the catastrophic event.
Instead of trying to escape, he continued to take photographs and made sure that he protected his camera and film from the blistering hot lava and ash that consumed him.
The photographs captured in his final moments were published in the January 1981 issue of National Geographic and are still admired to this day.
Another volcano eruption at Mount St. Helens took place from 2004 to 2008 and allowed scientists to investigate just how it works. It also allowed them to advance their monitoring systems that detect when the next explosion might take place.
At the time of the 1980 eruption only one monitoring system was in place, but currently there are 20 systems.
THE CATACLYSMIC ERUPTION OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, 1980
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington erupted.
The cataclysmic event killed 57 people and blasted more than 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain.
The eruption was trigged by a magnitude 5+ earthquake, which was accompanied by a debris avalanche.
This abruptly removed the pressure at the top of the volcano, allowing hot water to quickly become steam, expanding ‘explosively,’ according to USGS.
A wave of decreasing pressure travelled down the volcano to the magma reservoir lying below. The magma then began to rise and bubble, creating a massive eruption which lasted for nine hours.
The debris avalanche travelled westward as far as 14 miles down the North Fork Toutle River valley, with a total volume equal to 1 million Olympic swimming pools.
And, the lateral blast devastated the surrounding area nearly 19 miles west to east, and 12.5 miles to the north.
In less than 15 minutes after the blast of hot material began, an eruption cloud had reached a height of more than 15 miles.
Roughly 520 million tons of ash were blown across the United States, causing complete darkness in Spokane, Washington – 250 miles away from the volcano.
The cloud circled the Earth in 15 days.
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