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Mt. St. Helens Devastating Eruption Captured On Film

Photographers risked their lives to get the shot

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Yesterday, May 18th, marked the 32nd anniversary of the devastation brought on by Mt. St. Helens when it erupted in a wall of black ash and lava, leaving a path of destruction 250 miles long and killing 57 people.

The volcano was widely regarded as a beautiful part of the Cascade area before the eruption and often drew mountain climbers, tourists, and nature lovers to its base, where serene waters offered fishing and perfect camping areas. When a 5.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the mountain, however, it literally blew its top and spewed hot ash that traveled thousands of miles. Some photographers risked their lives to get shots of the event and managed to capture both the eruption and the swath of its destruction.

mount st. helens before eruption
Image credit: D.R. Mullineaux

mt. st. helens eruption
Image credit: Austin Post

mt. st. helens car
Image credit: Dan Dzurisin

mt. st. helens bridge
Image credit: Lyn Topinka

mt. st. helens boulder
Image credit: Lyn Topinka

mt. st. helens blast
Image credit: Washington Herald

Photographer Vern Hodgson captured some of the first images of the eruption while on a camping trip and barely made it out of the path of destruction alive.

“Every time you took a breath it would stick to your throat or get stuck in your nose,” he remembers. “At that point I started to go into shock,” he said. “You couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We accepted the fact we were going to die.”

Hodgson captured this image from 11 miles away just as the volcano blew its top.

mt. st. helens explosion

“Even today it sends chills up my spine and puts goosebumps up my back,” he said. “To see that whole mountain collapse, there’s no words to describe it.”

Mt. St. Helens Devastating Eruption Captured On Film
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  • https://plus.google.com/117895169424507660944 STR82U

    32 Years ago, what a way to make me feel old! When this happened, I was 9 and spending time in North Carolina with my dad, a radio announcer. Back then, without internet, it was AP (and ABC maybe) Teletype machines and they were literally running for days straight. My “job” was to reload the paper rolls while trying to catch the news between reports. The next time that happened was John Lennon.

    Thanks for the memories.

  • http://ofinteresttome.com Matt

    My Uncle, a Geologist, was at Mt St Helens when it erupted. He brought back a sample of ash from the mountain for my Mom as a souvenir. I have it now.

    Anyway, pointless comment is pointless.

  • http://ms1.gotdns.com jonny rocket

    ya, what an event. i remember it vividly. it was all over the news for months on end. i remember the art carney movie of the guy who wouldn’t move out too.

  • Renaldo

    They didn’t ‘risk their lives to get the shot’. They just happened to be in the right (wrong?) place at the right time. The eruption wasn’t on some sort of schedule that photographers could follow. In fact, some of the most dramatic photos of the eruption were taken by a man who lost his life in the eruption. One of his photos is the large one just above the video. These photos were published by National Geographic and the prints show evidence of damage to the negatives from the intense heat of the ash.

  • Wayne

    It did NOT erupt with a wall of black ash and lava as you refer to in your article. Lava refers both to molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption and the resulting rock after solidification and cooling. St. Helens eruption was a large-scale pyroclastic flow or a pyroclastic density current, which is a fast moving current of superheated gas!

    The collapse of the northern flank of St. Helens mixed with ice, snow, and water to create lahars (volcanic mudflows) not Lava!

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