The most catastrophic volcanic eruption in the USA

For the present in the USA SUPERVULKAN in the history of the country hasn’t blown up there are data on the most catastrophic volcanic eruption. Also there was that it not so long ago.

Northwest of the USA, the Cascade Range, National wood of Gifford Pinchot, the most popular place of active recreation of Americans. Hikes, fishing, walks on yachts on lakes, “hunting” lodges of lucky (an analog of our dachas, only without hotbeds and potato). In the solar Sunday morning on May 18, 1980 the trouble was portended unless the volcano smoking in the distance by Saint Helens, the mountain nicknamed for the appearance “the American Fujiyama”. This volcano has woken up at the beginning of spring after 123 years’ hibernation and the second month disturbed scientists. Local authorities, apparently, have provided everything: from the zone, next to the mountain, evacuation has been made. Volcanists fixedly watched process of events, but to predict date of eruption and, the main thing, his force couldn’t.

At least 57 people became the victims of catastrophic explosion of Saint Helens, practically all of them just shouldn’t to die. Why it happened?

In the spring of 1980 Harry R. Truman, the namesake of the 33rd U.S. President, for a while became a media star. Journalists came to him for an interview one by one, the 83-year-old veteran of World War I flatly refused to leave own house located on the bank of the lake Spiritist at the bottom of Saint Helens. By this moment full evacuation from next to the woken-up zone volcano has already been carried out, and only one elderly rebel continued to resist.

The mountain smoked several weeks, the new dome continued to grow in her crater, periodically there were earthquakes, but scientists as has shown the fast future, actually poorly imagined what occurred in a subsoil of a stratovulkan. Saint Helens to geological measures was absolutely young, was created only in the last 40 000 years, but this picturesque young man who because of almost symmetric form of a cone was liked to be compared to the sacred mountain of Fuji was an integral part of the Pacific fiery ring, the most active volcanic belt of the planet.

These geological researches concerned Harry Truman a little. Since 1926 he almost constantly lived near Saint Helens, more than half a century owning and managing the guest house of Mount St. Helens Lodge, quite large local “agroestate”. This hotel enjoyed popularity at tourists all the year round, and Truman was known all around. In 1980 about it also other country learned.

However, by that spring which became for many to the last the guest house of the stubborn old man as was empty three years. After the death of the wife Truman closed it: the main estate and a bungalow slowly decayed, on the mooring the boats which were once plowing lake Spiritist open spaces rusted, and the veteran conducted in the company 16 (to sixteen!) cats and an indispensable whisky glass with Coca a hermit’s life. Here in search of the charismatic character it was also found by TV companies.

Harry Truman was the ideal hero for the picture: such this old American “from a plow”, the veteran of war, with “Cadillac” of 1957 which isn’t climbing in a pocket behind the word and protecting the most sacred from encroachments — the private property. In February, 1918 the 22-year-old private Truman survived in case of catastrophic crash of the line boat SS Tuscania, and now was difficult to frighten him. To it was to spit on the local authorities wishing to evict from it (for its benefit!) from the house.

To him was to spit on journalists: “damnation” was the softest curse which he inserted into every first offer “on the camera”. To him was to spit on a volcano which has suddenly got agitated after 123 years’ silence. Most likely, to him was to spit also on own lonely life.

“I don’t know, this piece will blow up or not — Truman has declared to journalists. — If the mountain decides to leave, also I will leave. Here around the wood, between me and Saint Helens the lake Spiritist, to a volcano the whole mile. The mountain to me won’t do much harm. I lived here very long, in the city apartment I won’t last out also two weeks”. On May 14 he even flew by helicopter to one of local schools where has addressed school students and has signed several autographs. Four days of former Saint Helens later didn’t become, and together with it there was no old man Truman also.

On March 20, 1980 in the neighborhood of the mountain the first earthquake measuring 4,2 points on the Richter scale has been registered. For volcanists it was the sure sign — Saint Helens has begun to wake up. Exactly a week later Robert Landsburg, the 48-year-old photographer from Portland, the State of Oregon, has decided that the chance of all his life has come. At 12 hours 36 minutes on March 27 powerful explosion has sounded, and over a crater of the mountain the column of ashes and steam has risen. Within the next weeks scientists registered numerous earthquakes, and the top of Saint Helens began to be blown up.

Within April — May Landsburg repeatedly came to vicinities of a volcano, arranging long hikes during which he has made a set of pictures of the wakened giant. That spat out gas and ashes in the atmosphere, the earth shivered around, the mountain prepared. Ландсбург expected.

One week prior to the tragedy the volcano has calmed down. The dome continued to grow with a speed of 1,5 — 2 meters a day, but for the rest the mountain didn’t show any activity, the monster has hidden. By May 17 the volcanic dome which has appeared in March on a northern slope of Saint Helens has reached height of 135 meters. It is the lava which is squeezed out from a mountain subsoil has corked with itself the magmapodvodyashchy channel. The cooled-down firm crust didn’t allow magma to stream on a surface. Pressure grew inside, magma collected, “tumor” all increased. David Johnston — the 30-year-old scientist from Geological service of the USA was one of the volcanists predicting sad consequences to which will lead this process. He headed field team of experts who studied the second month occurring in Saint Helens.

In the evening on May 17 Johnston remained one in several miles from top. Before departure of the colleague have made the picture which has become subsequently well-known. The smiling David sits with a notebook in hands near the trailer. Johnston believed that catastrophic eruption is inevitable. He has convinced authorities of the state not to cancel evacuation, not to return people in a resettlement zone. At the same time itself also didn’t think to leave the post, having shown the real example of heroism of the scientist.

Next day, on May 18, at 8:32 in the morning all has also begun. At first seismographs have recorded a strong earthquake which power has reached 5,1 points on the Richter scale. In 10 seconds as a result of tremors the northern slope of the mountain has actually ceased to exist. It was the most terrible landslide recorded by people: 2,7 cubic kilometers of rock with a speed reaching 250 km/h have rushed to the valley. The stream has forced out all water from the lake Spiritist, on the road having killed the brave old man Harry Truman. His body was found, but probably he has met the destiny as usual: sitting on a porch with a glass of favourite cocktail.

The lake water which is forced out from a habitual hollow has formed the tsunami which was sweeping away trees and killing animals. As a result the huge wave has rested against hills and was rolled away back, having created the lake on the new place. The destroyed wood has formed the huge island which has remained to this day on his surface.

After a landslide bark of a volcanic dome couldn’t constrain pressure of the magma which is saved up in the mountain any more. From Saint Helens steam and volcanic gas have begun to escape, and in several seconds the most powerful explosion which was heard in hundreds of miles around has sounded. The volcanist David Johnston has managed to contact the colleagues working in Vancouver: “Vancouver! Vancouver! It it!” It were the last words of the young guy who has burned down on the post. Later rescuers have found only the remains of the van in which he lived.

It was side eruption. The volcanic dome was on a northern slope of Saint Helens, and explosion has turned out directed. The top of “the American Fujiyama” has disappeared, on her place the ugly crater was formed. From him down the mountain remains with a speed reaching several honeycombs of kilometers per hour pyroclastic streams — the heated mix from ashes, volcanic gases and stones have rushed. The snow and glaciers still remaining on a volcano have thawed. Water has mixed up with ashes and rock, having formed a so-called lahar — a peculiar kind of a mudflow. Lahars have followed a pyroclastic stream.

They destroyed everything that else survived in case of a landslide and a tsunami, in a radius of several miles. The U.S. President Jimmy Carter, having appeared later on the accident site, under impression of what was seen declared: “Someone said that this region began to remind a lunar landscape. Actually the Moon seems the golf course in comparison with what occurred here”.

From a crater into the sky the pole of ashes and smoke up to 25 kilometers high rose. This column then began to creep away on neighborhoods. In 4 miles from peak of Saint Helens the photographer Landsburg was going to become history. Its hour of triumph came, the camera was mounted on a mount. Landsburg removed and removed, a frame off-screen, watching through a lens behind death rushing on it. It understood its inevitability clearly. Having finished shooting a film, Robert accurately rewound it and hid the holder in a backpack. There he put documents to facilitate the future identification.

The Landsburg was found in 17 days. His body lay under an ashes layer on a backpack. During the last moments of the life the photographer laid down on him to save himself the finished shooting material. A film managed to be developed, and this series of pictures in which eruption development was imprinted, the cloud of incandescent ashes rushing on the camera became Robert a posthumous monument.


Photo from National Geographic log. January, 1981

In total the volcano has thrown out 540 million tons of ashes. In an hour after the beginning of eruption the rain has dropped out of him on the city of Yakima located in 140 kilometers from Saint Helens. Finally the ashes layer has reached 13 centimeters there. Near the mountain the situation was far worse. Practically all from 57 victims of the tragedy haven’t burned down in lava streams at all, and have just choked in a volcanic cloud.

The landslide, pyroclastic stream, mud lahars have destroyed 250 houses, 47 bridges, 24 kilometers of iron and nearly 300 kilometers of highways. The damage has reached billions of dollars. In total eruption has destroyed nearly 10 million cubic meters of the wood, has killed 1500 elks, 5000 deer, dozens of bears and infinite number of small animals. Also at least 57 people from whom only three (the old man Truman, the photographer Landsburg and the volcanist Johnston) were in an evacuation zone have died. Why, despite the taken measures, the number of the victims has passed for fifty?

First of all scientists have just underestimated the possible scale of accident. The level of development of science to the 1980th was such is that experts sometimes just couldn’t predict behavior of a volcano. A role was played also by an eruption format. The pyroclastic stream and ashes have escaped on a surface not through the old, existing at mountain top crater, and from a side dome. At the same time eruption had character of the directed explosion. Instead of being distributed evenly around Saint Helens, all his power has been concentrated on one direction that has increased defeat radius.

Besides, the important role was played also by policy of the authorities of the state who didn’t wish to exclude for long time from economic circulation too big territory. About a volcano minimum possible evacuation area that the forest companies could continue cutting down of trees in its vicinities was established. In a sense the fact that eruption took place in Sunday was luck, on weekday around the mountain would work much more people.

In 1987 the national park around Saint Helens was reopened for visit. Now tourists were attracted there by not only natural beauty, but also the tragedy of seven-year prescription. Stratovulkan woke up in the middle of the 2000th again, but, having done many troubles in May, 1980, this time was limited only to a reminder on the difficult nature.

Now the spoiled Saint Helens sleeps again. Of course, it didn’t go out, and only saves forces once again to show to people around the power. It is necessary only to hope that this time people will be ready.