Maria Cantwell

Senate to Remember Mount St. Helens Disaster - May 17, 2005

Maria Cantwell
May 17, 2005— Washington, DC
25th Anniversary
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The U.S. Senate will pass a resolution this evening recognizing the 25th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, the resolution recognizes the victims and damage of the eruption, states the importance of monitoring America's active volcanoes and urges continued development of emergency response plans for endangered communities.

Mr. President, today marks the 25th Anniversary of one of the largest and most devastating volcanic eruptions in the history of our nation—the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. For thousands of years, Mount St. Helens had remained a relatively dormant peak in the serene forests of the Pacific North west. But on the morning of May 18, this all changed as a plume of ash filled the sky and a flood of earth tore through miles of trees.

Today, 25 years later, the effect of the 1980 eruption remains evident. Grumbling of Mount St. Helens over the past year stirred memories and prompted many Washington state residents to recall the events of May 18.

The level of activity at Mount St. Helens, combined with its unpredictability, make this mountain uniquely special to Washingtonians. We embrace the mountain's beauty, but retain a profound respect for its power given the potential for a recap of the 1980 eruption and the devastation that it brought. We revel at the extraordinary images that it provides—even hiking and climbing to get to them—and yet remain respectful of its potential to take life.

Because of our unique relationship with the mountain, it is not uncommon to meet a Washingtonian who still keeps a jar of the ash they found on their lawns when they awoke the morning of May 18.  And, like the landing on the moon or the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., most Washingtonians can tell you where they were when the eruption occurred.

Mount St. Helens is located in southwest Washington state, approximately 90 miles south of Seattle and 65 miles north of Portland, Oregon.

The first sign that Mount St Helens was awakening 25 years ago was a series of small earthquakes in the early spring. During the days that followed, the magnitude and frequency of the shockwaves began to increase and the first small eruptions began. This intensified, and on the morning of May 18, culminated in an awe-inspiring and destructive eruption that changed to surrounding geography and rendered the neighboring ridges bare and void of life—more fitting of a moonscape that the temperate rainforests of Washington state.

That Sunday, David Johnston, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey was conducting measurements on the mountain. At 8:32a.m., as an earthquake brought magma to St. Helens surface, Johnston sent the now infamous radio transmission: "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"

Just seconds later Johnston was engulfed by the explosion and landslide as it swept laterally from the mountain at speeds as high as 500 miles per hour.

Reaching temperatures as high as 1,300 F, and with the power of "24 megatons of thermal energy," the hot flash of steam that the mountain released turned nearly 70 percent of the snow and ice sitting atop St. Helens into water, triggering one of the largest landslides in recorded history.

To give you a sense of the enormity of the event, Mount St. Helens, which prior to the eruption was the 9th highest peak in Washington state at 9,677 feet, was reduced by more than 1300 feet. Today, at 8,363 feet, Mount St. Helens is now Washington state's 30th highest peak.

The avalanche created by the explosion equaled close to two-thirds of a cubic mile of debris. The geologic survey estimates it to have been enough to cover Washington, D.C. in more than 14 feet of ash and mud.

The raging flow of rock, ice cleared everything in its path, burying the North Fork of the Toutle River under an average of 150 feet of debris, while covering other areas by as much as 600 feet.

The debris filled a large portion of neighboring Spirit Lake, raising the water level by more than 60 meters and doubling the size of the shoreline. In all, approximately 23 square miles of material was removed from the mountain fanning out across a 230 square mile area of devastation, ranging nearly 17 miles from the crater.

The blast incinerated trees 100 years old and cleared all forms of plant life from the areas within the blast zone. Estimates put the total loss of trees at four billion board feet.

The depth of the great Columbia River was reduced from 40 feet to 14 feet and 31 vessels were stranded in upriver ports. Witnesses recall fish jumping from the Toutle River to escape the extreme rise in temperature caused by the heat.

The massive ash cloud grew to 80,000 feet in 15 minutes and reached the East Coast in three days. While the extreme devastation of the surrounding region had the greatest impact on residents, most Washingtonians recall the dark, black clouds that rolled in and the ash that coated their communities like snow.

In all, the 1980 eruption destroyed 27 bridges, 200 homes, 185 miles of roadway, and 15 miles of railway. Congress responded by passing a $957 million emergency supplemental appropriations bill to help recover from the estimated 1.1 billion in damages. And, tragically, 57 people were killed as a result of the eruption.

Twenty-five years later, Weyerhaeuser Company—which planted more than 18.4 million Douglas firs and other trees to rehabilitate the forest—has begun to harvest some of these trees. Today, many of the trees that were first planted stand at more than 60 feet. The company's efforts to reestablish the ecological health of the region have been invaluable.

Today, Mount St. Helens and the surrounding environment continue to recover. Millions of tourists each year come to join with Washingtonians to enjoy this spectacular natural wonder.

Twenty-five years later, I stand with Senator Murray to pay homage to Mount St. Helens and the eruption that forever altered the history of our state. With that, we have prepared this commemorative resolution that I ask unanimous consent to be included in the record.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.