Safety and Emergency Items for Real People - People with Real Budgets and Real, Busy Lives


Mt. St. Helens, Part 2: The Day After

Jennifer Piper

White, dead tree standing by side of road with mountains and blue sky in background
Part of "Ghost Forest" near edge of Mt. St. Helens blast zone. 2014.
Monday, May 19, 1980
After what must have been a strange and unsettled night of sleep, my grandparents rose the day after the cataclysmic eruption to a silent, grey world they did not recognize.
(To read about Jack and Maggie's experiences on the day of the eruption, see Mt. St. Helens, Part 1: Played golf, bought a toilet, and survived a volcano)
Maggie appears to have written the entries today. 
May 19, 1980. All grey volcanic ash on everything. Don't know what happened to all the birds. Photo of blue jay.
Maggie and Jack loved the blue jays that played around their wooded lot. They taught my sisters and me to love them, too.
Every summer we spent hours clipping peanuts into the clothespins on the lines strung between the mobile home and the shed, and watching for "George" and "Martha" to come steal them away. Those birds were so funny, and so sociable with us humans.
A few steps into the trees brought you to a sturdy, canvas hammock. I can't think of Packwood without hearing the sound of those strong ropes go creak, creak, creak as I hid out in the hammock.
A good place for a young introvert to read books and sneak peeks at the shyer jays and chipmunks who only came around for a peanut when the people were gone. Also a good place for that young introvert to listen in on grown-up conversations around the fire pit. 
But that May morning, no jays, no chipmunks. No conversation.
May 19, 1980. It's so quiet out it's scary. The world looks so dead we went back to bed so we wouldn't have to look at it.
After that dismal line, my grandma wrote:
"Got up about 11:30. Hope for rain so the dust can be scooped off roads. All passes closed."
"All passes closed" means they can't get out of the mountains and go home. They are stuck there for the time being.
In a dead world. Grey. Exhaustion and quiet mourning.
The inability to leave means there is nothing to do. Nothing to get done - which for my Depression-era, strong-work-ethic grandparents, must have felt very itchy.
Although frustrating, the lack of work does seem to give the day a feeling of that needed calm after a storm. Time to catch a breath and thank God for deliverance. Shock and trauma rolling over into the beginning of recovery.
But then:
May 19, 1980. 2:30 p.m. mountain spewed again and at 3:00 it is nearly pitch black outside. Wish we could go home.
And then:
May 19, 1980. Mountain erupted again at 5:45. At least radio reception was pretty good all day.
Ah, finally:
May 19, 1980. 9:00 p.m. All quiet on mountain. Hope that's all till we can get out.
Was that all until they could get out? It was all for Monday the 19th, that's all I'm saying for now. Keep an eye out for installment #3.

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