Disaster Anniversary Week

May 18, 2015

Today, 35 years ago I was living in Chicago when I heard that Mt. St. Helens finally blew it's top. I stayed plastered to the TV most of the day watching the lahar flows create a brand new environment out in the Pacific NW.  I remember authorities had been warning residents for weeks to get away, far away from the possible blast zone. TV stations had also interviewed Harry Truman the 83 year old caretaker of the Mount St. Helens Lodge which transformed him into a soon to be martyred celebrity. 

All I knew about the eruption was what I saw on the TV and read in the papers. Interestingly, the most memorable part of the eruption (for me) wouldn't take place until seven years later when I was working for a daily newspaper in Spokane, Washington. Since Spokane was north east of the volcano it was the first major metro area in line for the ash fallout.

Dorothy Powers was an editorial writer and columnist who shared with me and a few others from the editorial page her remembrances of that day just seven years earlier. This was the first, first-hand, remembrance of the (any) volcano eruption I had ever heard. In addition, what made it even better  was that Dorothy was a GREAT story teller.

Dorothy and her husband, Elwood had been out (away from ANY media) all day and were driving home and noticed that it was getting strangely dark outside. As they traveled through a rural area they couldn't help notice the darkness seemed to be caused by the gray flakes falling from the sky. They also saw cows laying down in the abnormally surrealistic gray and deserted landscape. Their minds started racing and being a more political versus science couple, Dorothy and Elwood seriously believed they might be driving through nuclear fallout. Ronald Reagan had been president for less than 6 months and after much media talk about the cowboy and the button, maybe this was it...! Turning on the car radio to see what was happening and not being able to get ANY reception as they continued to see more cows on the ground, it only increased their panic level.

Even though they eventually found out the truth for ash piling up outside...they never forgot that weird eerie feeling that we were now possibly in a nuclear war.

That was a natural disaster...two years ago this weekend was a man made accident disaster ....the Skagit River Bridge collapse.....which I'll write about tomorrow.


-Milt Priggee

Back to Blog