32 Years ago Exactly

One story I never heard before I posted this was that of Robert Landsberg who, realizing he had moments to live, took these images as the pyroclastic flow rushed toward him, then rewound and secured the film and camera and protected them with his body. His remains were found 17 days later.

God rest his soul and bless him for going out like a true photographer. And may God have mercy on all who died that day.

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  • B.E. Ward

    And for anyone that’s never been, please avail yourself of a trip to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (seasonal) and watch the film there. You won’t regret it!

  • KML

    I was three when this happened, and I have a clear memory of my dad leaning down to pick me up from my crib wearing a paper mask over his face. He’d been outside sweeping up the soot that was raining down on our house in the Portland suburbs. Years later as a child I’d dig in the backyard as kids do and find at a certain depth a thick layer of white ash in between all the years of composted leaves.

    Thanks for sharing this image.

  • Jennifer

    What does the area look like today? Has anything grown back, or any wildlife returned?

    • B.E. Ward

      It’s pretty desolate. Let’s put it this way.. if you didn’t know the eruption was 32 years ago you might think it was more recent. It’s normally quite windy around there, and if you go on even a short hike you’ll probably come back with a thin layer of dust and ash all over. Elk wander around the blast zone at times, but there’s not a lot else fauna-wise.

      • Ted Seeber

        On the surface that’s what it looks like- but there have been some surprising recoveries teaching us more about God’s real version of evolution than we ever dreamed:

        This is a video from Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide on Spirit Lake. It’s a few years old, but amazing how much life has returned to a lake that is 2/3rds covered with a log raft.

        • dpt

          Thanks for the link Ted. Quite interesting!

  • brian_in_brooklyn

    Thanks for sharing this, Mark.

  • Rosemarie


    I was in elementary school at the time. Shortly before the eruption, I read a newspaper article about Harry Truman (not the former POTUS), a guy who lived fairly near the volcano and refused to evacuate. He was certain he would survive any eruption; I remember hoping he was right or would at least change his mind before the volcano blew. After the eruption, though, there was another article with the headline, “Man went down with his mountain.” That made me feel pretty sad, and stayed with me for a long time.

    Gosh, that was a pretty mountain before the eruption. Now it’s all jagged and scarred.

    • KML

      Rosemarie, I remember that was a story that stayed with me, too.

  • Margaret

    I was a toddler then, but I have clear memories of the huge boom. My dad was in the army and flew search and rescue missions to look for survivors. As a previous poster said, the Johnston Ridge Interpretive Center is amazing and definitely worth a trip. There are still signs of the eruption especially close to the crater certainly, but the area has recovered in an amazing way. Its a real testament to the regenerative power of nature.

  • beccolina

    I was two. We had lived in the area, but had moved from there to the eastern side of the Rockies the fall before. My Grandparents took me to the observatory when I was visiting in college, and I was surprised that nature had returned as much as it had. My aunt in Spokane has pictures of my uncle shoveling the ash off their walk like snow.

  • trespinos

    Among all the other stories, it wasn’t widely reported at the time how close Interstate 5, the main north-south artery, came to being severed. The mudflow-swollen Toutle River fell only a few feet short of sweeping away the I-5 bridge. As it was, the butt ends of the most massive tree trunks racing down the channel were hitting the lower chords of the bridge with a shivering, gonging impact. Upstream, smaller bridges had no chance of surviving. Today, the re-built Toutle River Highway 504 no longer winds along the valley floor but sits higher on the ridges, offering scenic vistas, but not necessarily much cover if the volcano ever decides to blow again.

  • Ted Seeber

    I was 10. I remember even way down in Silverton, 40 miles south of Portland, we got 3-4″ of ash, and we’d go to the tops of hills to watch the volcano, a good 80 miles away- you could see the mountain the size of a nickle and the big plume rising from it.

    I always figured Harry Truman, living on the side of Spirit Lake, went straight from heaven to Heaven.

  • I was 8- and I remember (maybe 200 miles away?) scooping up ash from the drifts in the street….those were the days!

    • Robert

      I grew up north of Boise and was 3 when it exploded. I vaguely remember being kept in and the ash falling. My parents collected bottles of stone-like granules off the front porch. In the panhandle, they said it was like dark night, only it was difficult to breath.