Mount St. Helens: The big blast was 33 years ago today

Mount St. Helens explodes
On the morning May 18, 1980, Keith Stoffel, then a DNR employee, took this photo while on a sightseeing flight over Mount St. Helens. It is the only known image of the initial eruption. Photo: Keith Stoffel (c) 2010.

The explosion of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, produced a powerful blast that destroyed 230 square miles of national, state and private forest, and took 57 lives. Some of those who died from powerful shock waves and clouds of hot ash and superheated gases were several miles away. Others drowned when  lahars — mud flows — spilled down local valleys and river beds.

Today, a 110,000-acre area around the mountain is a National Volcanic Monument. The mountain has been a lot quieter since the events of May 18, 1980; several steam eruptions occurred in 2004, but caused no injuries or deaths.

DNR’s Geology and Earth Resources Division works with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies to monitor Mount St. Helens and the other active volcanoes in Washington State.

Read more about Keith Stoffel’s narrow escape from the mountain’s blast after snapping today’s photo, and learn more about the eruption on our Mount St. Helens information page.

More photos of Mount St. Helens are on the DNR Flickr page.

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