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Eruption of Mount St. Helens

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This event repeats every year forever

Event details

On March 27, 1980, Mount St. Helens began a series of volcanic explosions and pyroclastic flows. It started as a series of phreatic blasts from the summit then escalated on May 18, 1980, as a major explosive eruption. The eruption, which had a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 5, was the most significant to occur in the contiguous 48 U.S. states since the much smaller 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. It has often been declared the most disastrous volcanic eruption in U.S. history. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a large bulge and a fracture system on the mountain's north slope.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year. Thermal energy released during the eruption was equal to 26 megatons of TNT.

Approximately 57 people were killed directly, including innkeeper Harry R. Truman, photographers Reid Blackburn and Robert Landsburg, and geologist David A. Johnston. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage, thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, but afterward the land passed to the United States Forest Service. The area was later preserved, as it was, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

 

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