KOIN Video Vault: The eruption of Mount St. Helens

Special Reports

KOIN 6 News aired a half-hour special days after the May 18, 1980 eruption

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted with a force that was heard more than 200 miles away.

Just eight days later, KOIN 6 News aired a half-hour special about the eruption, featuring aerial shots before, during and after the cataclysmic event. It also chronicled the well-known tale of Harry Truman, the 84-year-old mountain man who refused to leave.

Where We Live: 40th anniversary of Mount St. Helens eruption
Photos: The eruption of Mount St. Helens

Soon after the eruption, President Jimmy Carter toured the region by air and then met with people on the ground. This is how President Carter described what he saw:

“There is no way to prepare oneself for the sight that we beheld this morning. I don’t know if any time in recorded history in our nation there’s been a more formidable explosion. What happened, apparently, was a natural explosion maybe to 10 megatons of nuclear bombs or 10 million tons of TNT that swept across, first with a flash of light and heat, 800 to 1000 degree about 12 to 15 miles away that instantly burned everything that was in direct visual sight of the explosion itself. This was later followed in two or three minutes by the pressure wave that traveled at the speed of sound and that was later followed by this enormous gush of liquid rock, mixed with air and to some degree with ice, that comprised one cubic mile of material. Absolute and total devastation of a region that encompasses about 150 miles.

“It’s the worst thing I have ever seen. It had been described to me earlier but it was much worse than the description. It impressed me. I don’t know how long it will take for that region to be open even for normal movement or traffic. Enormous blocks of ice apparently are still covered by literally hundreds of feet of fluffy face powder-type ash. As that ice is melted under the hot conditions that exist, enormous cave-ins are taking place. Steam is bubbling up. There are a few fires about. Someone said it was like a moonscape, but it was much worse than any pictures I’ve ever seen of the moon’s surface. Fortuately, the number of people in that region were minimal. But it is literally indescribable. It’s devastation.”

Now, 40 years later, people are still talking about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Here is the KOIN 6 News special from May 26, 1980.

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