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The Day My World Shook [WRAP]

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posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 03:59 PM

The Day My World Shook

A true story


“Aw Dad, do I have to go to church?” I whined from under my covers. The waterbed was warm and although I enjoyed seeing my friends at church, it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to get up.

“Yes.” Was all he said, and it was enough. My father was a very fair man and did not rule me with fear, but respect. One of the worst things I could do was let my Dad down; so I did what he said. Dragging myself out of bed that morning, I had no idea that it was a day I would never forget.

Church started at nine and as was the norm, my sister and I scrambled at the last minute to leave on time. Dad was usually out in the car, impatiently tapping the steering wheel as my Mom orchestrated the 'last-minute-hustle' dance with us. It was quite a show.

Our most recent animal acquisition were two rabbits named Snowball and Tiger. Contrary to their names, several weeks later Snowball was found eating Tiger…but that’s a different story. This particular morning I rushed out back to check on them before the final honk from the station wagon.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the dark clouds on the horizon. Now Yakima, Washington can have some spectacular thunder storms and we lived near the base of low hills that were often struck by random bolts, but these were like nothing I had ever seen. Of course, I was only nine years old so my history wasn’t long but I knew I was looking at something unusual. They were still a long way off, huge black inkwells spreading out on the horizon.

I skipped around to the front yard eager to tell my Dad. He was in his ‘time to go’ mode though and wasn’t that interested in my ramblings. Sitting in the most unladylike way I could muster in the back seat (I was a complete tom-boy but my parents made me wear a skirt to church), I insisted that my father listen to me.

As we made our way out of the cul-de-sac and turned onto a main street, my father finally saw what had gotten me all worked up. He paused. It was still far away, but even to his 35 years it was a perplexing sight. “You’re right Tara that is quite a storm.” I sat back in my seat, satisfied to finally be acknowledged.

I have to admit that I was a bit excited too. I just loved a good thunder storm. My Dad and I would often go out in the back yard with his camera on a tripod and try to catch those random bolts hitting the hillside. I would stay out for as long as I could stand my Mom telling me to come in before I got killed.

That was what I was thinking about as we went into church that day. The great pictures we just might get and how I was going to keep my Mom off my back long enough to get them. This turned out to be one of those days though that my Mom just happened to be right. You see, it was May 18, 1980 and that was not a fantastic thunderstorm brewing in the distance. It was the most devastating eruption the United States has ever recorded.


After church we made our way to a local park for a pot-luck picnic with some friends from church. This was a common occurrence on Sundays and I normally enjoyed it. Today though, I was eager to get back home ahead of the storm. I was disappointed to not be able to see it when we first came out of the church. We were down-town then and did not have the great view to the West that we got from our backyard.

The park though was near our house and nestled along a small river that wound through our valley, hugging the hillside with the darkened spots from lightening hits. These low hills did not have trees on them, but scrub so the view was unobstructed. As we were unloading our food from the various cars and making our way out to the open picnic area, I scanned the sky and even though I had already seen it, gasped at the tapestry laid out before me.

Those dark imposing clouds were no longer ink wells but large ominous black seas. They swelled higher than any cloud should and continued to spread out as if it were a black hole swallowing the sky. The air around me had taken on a heaviness that seemed to push against me. The hair not only on the back of my neck stood up but also my arms and legs. Sheer instinct told me that this was something I should be running from and my excitement was quickly replaced with the cold fist of fear punching me hard in the stomach.

The potato salad in my hands forgotten, I spun around to look for my Dad. He was running towards our small group from the parking lot, a look on his face that I had never before seen. The fear clawed its way up into the back of my throat.

“That’s not a storm!” He was yelling to the three other families, all of them now seeing the building mass for the first time. His voice seemed to come from far away as my fight or flight instincts took over. “Mount Saint Helen’s has erupted! We all have to get home,” he explained.

No one knew what that meant. “Helen’s erupted? What do you mean, erupted?” several people said at once. My gut knew though what my mind did not. Some seventy people were killed that morning as massive lahars (water and mud flows) rushed down the mountain. The pyroclastic flow leveled over 380 square kilometers of 200 year old trees as it blew over 900 meters off its top.

We were looking at a cubic mile of material rising into the sky, more than a metric ton for every person on earth that day. We were witnessing history in the making, but all I knew was that I was more scared than I ever been in my short life.


Once we were back safe at home, it was almost noon and the evil looking clouds were rapidly sweeping towards us, threatening to crash down at any minute. No one knew what to do. All the radio stations were saying was to stay inside and don’t breath the ash. We didn’t even know what ash was let-alone what to do with it. My primary concern was for the rabbits.

Now I was a child that refused to cry when I broke a bone. To shed tears was to show weakness and I prided myself in being strong. But that day, as I stood outside looking at the rabbits in the hutch, I sobbed. My excuse was of course concern for the rabbits but I can admit now that I was just scared. I thought we all might die. The worst part was that no one could really assure me that we wouldn’t.

As I stood there, the shadow of what was left of the mountain overtook me, a complete blackness that was Mother Nature assuring me of her power. As the first light flakes began to fall, the surreal landscape turned into a scene from my nightmares of hell.

Back inside where we hoped it was safe, my neighbors started to congregate. I already mentioned we lived in a cul-de-sac, and we were all young families that for the most part got along well. For whatever reason, most of them ended up at my house, bringing food for what was the second attempt at a pot-luck for the day.

We all gathered in the living room to watch the news, hoping for some thread of information to reassure us that the world was not ending. The one image that stands out most in my mind is the split screen. There happened to be a big baseball game that day and apparently our demise by volcano didn’t warrant a full interruption of the broadcast.

It appeared that while there was still mass confusion as to what had really happened up on the mountain that day; they were at least able to tell us that we were going to have ash fall us. Newsflash! That was already happening, thank you very much. What they couldn’t tell us was how much, how long and how dangerous it was. We were left with our own imaginations. For a nine year old girl who spent a good portion of her time thinking up various stories and fantasies, this was just not a good thing.

After some food and a small dose of the news/baseball game, the several kids that were there ended up in my room, drawn along into my interpretation of events.

By now we were completely engulfed in darkness, the ground and everything else outside covered in a fine layer of growing ash. The rumbling had begun. A distant sound not unlike thunder that resonated through the house and your body. Lightning flashed regularly, as if to mock me and my earlier excitement now turned to dread.

We huddled under multiple blankets and sleeping bags on the floor of my room, several children of various ages sharing an experience that for that night, made us all great friends. Every time the lightning flashed or the rumbling grew, we would pull the covers tighter around us, drawing on each other’s presence and strength. I grew up a bit that night. I learned that the world was not as predictable or safe as I had once thought. I also realized that fear will completely take you over if you let it and if you can master this emotion than you can handle whatever life throws at you…even a mountain.

Thank you to those that took the time to read my story! As indicated in the sub-title, this is a true story. I obviously survived the night that Mt. St. Helen's errupted. I chose to write about this experience because it is the main event in my childhood that has fueled my interest in Geology as an adult. It was this desire to learn more that drew me to ATS and ultimately the fragile earth forum, where you will find me the most. This earth we share is incredible and so much more powerful than most people can even comprehend.

Following are a couple of links of interest for the erruption and a couple of pictures I have taken of two other volcanos I now live near; Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. Enjoy!

Helens Link

Helen's resource site

Mount Baker, as seen a few miles from my house:

Mount Rainier as seen near Packwood, WA; (also the most dangerous volcano in the US)

posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 07:17 PM
Very interesting story.

My grandfather was in the area when the eruption took place, driving a semi-truck.
He gathered ash in an old italian dressing jar and I still have that same jar today.

It's hard to describe events of such earth-shattering volume to people who weren't there.

But your story helps to overcome that obstacle.


posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 07:24 PM
reply to post by havok

Thank you for the positive response! It's wierd how you can experience something and not realize at the time how huge it is. The fact that we had absolutely NO warning, and not even any notification until it was almost on top of us still amazes me.

The amount of ash was simply incredible. You can still see it along the road in between Ellensburg and Yakima, as its own little layer in the historic tablet of the hillside. My dad had collected litterally dozens of jars of ash. People thought it was wierd at the time, but what I wouldn't give for one of those jars now! The blown glass it makes is beautiful.

I think sometimes an event seen through the eyes of a child is the most realistic, raw way to see it.

posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 11:07 PM
reply to post by westcoast

You were throwing my emotions around as I read of your events, at one point was jealous of you, as I have not had the priviledge to witness such an event. Relief was also thrown in, not only for you, your family and friends being safe, but for relief for me as well, relief that I have not encountered such an event.

I was a child again for the briefest time; I literally saw the children playing and fidgeting under the covers, jumping and chattering as the lightning you spoke of lit up the room.

Thank you for taking me on this journey, I read your story out loud to my husband, who is sitting at my side, and his enthusiasm made his eyes sparkle, he remembered learning about St Helen when he was studying to be a teacher. Although he is not a teacher now and decided to follow another path.

Thank you.

posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 11:27 PM
reply to post by Whateva69

Thank you SO much for sharing that with me!! The fact that even one person enjoyed the story made writing it more than worthwhile.

posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 11:39 PM
reply to post by westcoast

S & F

My Grandfather was living in North East Oregon when that happened. When I was young he visited us 6 months after the event when we lived in LA Cali and brought with him three different ash samples of the fallout. One was a container which had a very fine ash. The second container had the same fine ash mixed with what looked like salt and pepper and the third resembled a fine gritty sand.

The samples were taking from different locations in the town he lived in.

Great thread.

posted on Jan, 11 2011 @ 11:39 PM
nice story WESTCOAST. that read was probly as close as ill ever be to feeling the emotions of being in an event like that. i probly never would of read a 1st hand account like that had something happened to you. glad you survived....... btw what does [WRAP] mean? iv been seeing it alot in thread titles.

Posted Via ATS Mobile:

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 12:42 AM
reply to post by SLAYER69

Thanks for the compliments!!

The ash was really unique. Coming down at one point the flakes were HUGE. They were like big cotton balls drifting on the air. I remember looking at them in the lamp over our covered our car very quickly. It is hard to explain how complete that darkness was.

The ash was so deep in places that they had to use snow plows to clear roads. My sister had to go to our relatives in Montana because she had asthma and it was really affecting her. We were stuck inside for over a week!!

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 12:58 AM
reply to post by strafgod

Thank you! If you haven't seen it, you need to watch the footage caught by a reporter up on the mountain at the time of the erruption. We watched it at the school soon after the erruption and does it give you chills! At one point he is running for his life and all you see in that total blackness and his ragged breathing as he runs blindly. Terrifying stuff.

The [wrap] is the way that the moderator knows the story is meant as an entry into the writing contest!

Hey! I found a copy of the video!!! Not the best quality, but it's still scary. Wish it weren't too late to add it to the OP!

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 01:42 AM
reply to post by westcoast

Thank you again Westcoast i just finished watching this one. Now ill watch the one you just posted.

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 01:57 AM
reply to post by Whateva69

Ugh, I am having issues with viewing videos,but I managed to see the begining and some of the shots of the ash removal.

Wasn't it beautiful at spirit lake before the eruption? You would never guess it,looking at the aftermath. The gal dumping the wheelbarrel of ash brings back more memories!

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 02:08 AM
We moved to Washington in 1990 and made a trip to Mt. St. Helens. This was ten years afterward and we were amazed to see the devastation. I can't even imagine what it would look like shortly after. All the trees were down and the ground was bare. It was quite a sight. It made an impression on me that I won't forget.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story. I almost felt like I was there.

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 02:14 AM
reply to post by westcoast

Oh yeah a beautiful place.

this quote is taken from a piece in the video i linked

Guide: Right now if we drained all of spirit lave, we’d have to go down about 120 feet of mud to get to the top of the old lake.

Tourist’s Question: Where was Harry Truman’s lodge at?

Guide’s Answer: It was right over at the tip of this ridge, right over there. The one coming into the water, of course he was down about 300 feet from where it is now, as he was on the old lake line, so he’s been covered by about 120 feet of mud and the water on top of that.

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 10:20 AM
reply to post by virraszto

Thank you for sharing - every once in awhile I meet someone who also experienced it, but not that often. I live in Western Washington now, and they didn't see too much from it here. Also, I guess it was 30 years ago (doesn't seem possible!!) so time is just now begining to gloss over the devastation.

posted on Jan, 12 2011 @ 12:47 PM
reply to post by Whateva69

It really is hard to comprehend. The whole landscape was radically changed in a matter of minutes. The raw power that it involved was like nothing ever witnessed before in modern times.

The scary part is that this is nothing compared to what Mount Rainier could do. Then, if you look at Yellowstone, it's like comparing peewee baseball to the majors.

posted on Jan, 13 2011 @ 02:17 PM
reply to post by Whateva69

Funny how things seem to come to your attention more after you think about it or address it. I haven't seen much on Helen's for awhile and now last night I just happened to turn on the history channel and saw the episodes about mega quakes and the New Madrid (they specifically talked about Helen's). A few hours before that, again I was channel surfing and what did I see? A show about the Mount Saint Helen's eruption!

This is one of those cases where I don't know if it is my level of awareness is just increased, or if there really is a growing amount of tv shows about volcanos and earthquakes.

posted on Jan, 13 2011 @ 08:34 PM

Originally posted by westcoast
reply to post by Whateva69

This is one of those cases where I don't know if it is my level of awareness is just increased, or if there really is a growing amount of tv shows about volcanos and earthquakes.

Oh I know hey after reading your story I was doing the same, surfing the web, and I don’t know if the threads were on ATS before, but all of a sudden I was seeing more and more of stuff on volcanoes, the twilight them came to my mind
, any way I silently thanked you in my mind for enlightening me on the subject. thank you.

posted on Jan, 13 2011 @ 11:30 PM
reply to post by Whateva69

You're most welcome

With all the info pouring in about Pole shifts, Magentic fields, CME's, makes me a bit more nervous about my own backyard.

Awareness is always a good thing, so long as you don't let it turn into a controlling fear!

posted on Jan, 14 2011 @ 02:11 AM
reply to post by westcoast

What an incredible first hand account you painted for me with your story! Thank you WESTCOAST for sharing!
I have been up to Helen's a bunch, hubby and I have camped up at june lake. It's amazing to see the aftermath. I've seen a lot of the footage and shows about it, amazing & powerful to say the least! Caught the same shows on the history channel about the mega quake and new madrid.

Really appreciate the time you took to share this with us, it's a fantastic piece! S&F!

posted on Jan, 14 2011 @ 10:32 AM
reply to post by Portlandia

Thank you!! I am glad you enjoyed it. Story telling to pass on and share our lives is becoming more of a forgotten tradition it seems. It's good to be reminded of how much fun it is!

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