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The Untold Story of Mount St Helens

Steve Olson

Couple fleeing the blast at 100 mph passed a station wagon doing 80 and in their mirrors saw it enveloped by the black cloud of hot ash. S & R found them the same day. They were identified as retirees from California. When they looked in the woman's purse they found it stuffed full of bags of cocaine and cash.

Lahars picked up thousands of logs from sawmills beside river. Entrepreneurs got there with cranes and lifted the logs, each of which was worth several hundred dollars.

Body found in half-buried Volvo. Top half still recognizable, but ash had burned away bottom half.

Climbers on Mt Adams, 30 miles from Mt St Helens, found sparks flying from anything made of metal. Ash clouds contain powerful electric charges resulting from ash particles rubbing together. As a result, volcanic eruptions almost always display intense displays of lightning.

Even a year after the eruption, ash billowing up behind moving vehicles was causing fatal accidents.

Post mortem by geologists - decided that probably the biggest mistake was not considering the effects of the most unlikely ways the mountain would erupt. Nobody thought very hard about what would happen in a lateral blast (landslide suddenly reduced pressure holding down the magma chamber).

Recovery followed unexpected paths. Had predicted that would proceed from outside in, with surrounding fauna and flora gradually recolonising the margins. Instead it varied widely from place to place.

The Forest Service tried to speed things up with aerial resowing, but it was an expensive cock-up. First they sowed during the wrong season, so most of the seeds failed to germinate, and were washed down to the valleys. This led to a huge boom in mouse population, then, when the seeds ran out, starving mice eating anything they could find, particularly regenerating plants.

Where downed trees were left to rot, micro-environments grew up in shelter.

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