‘The world is coming to an end’

Residents throughout the region recall the time when St. Helens exploded

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These recollections were originally published in The Columbian in 2005

Twenty-five years ago, I was preparing for retirement from active duty from the Navy after 20 years. I was sitting in the living room (in Woodland), talking to my family when we heard and felt the eruption.

My first reaction was: “Who is having artillery practice at this hour?” When I was aboard ship, the gunnery crew would have drills occasionally. Our bunks were always near the gun tubs, so we always dreaded when they had gunnery practice (especially if you are just coming off shift and were hoping for some shut-eye). When you hear (and feel) your first 5-inch gun go off next to your compartment, you will never forget it. I heard (and felt) my first 5-inch gun go off on my first cruise! It shook the whole ship and the sound was deafening.

Well, when St. Helens blew, it felt and sounded exactly like a 5-inch volley had just been launched. It shook the house, and the sound, while a bit more muffled, was still deafening. I will never forget it!

—John L. Kerndt

I survived a childhood without a Game Boy, VCR/DVD, microwave or home computer. So when (an) eruption of Mount St. Helens encapsulated our Hazel Dell neighborhood, it was an event the size of a theme park.

My sister (11) and brother (10) and I (8) were swift to take action. We took up shovels and the family recreational vehicle the wheelbarrow and headed to the neighbor’s driveway to scoop ash. We navigated the heavy load back to our driveway. With a little help from the garden hose to moisten the ash, we had ourselves a beach fit for building sand castles.

My mother soon discovered that the quiet in the house meant trouble. She and her flaming red hair flew out of the house with an eruption that rivaled that of good old St. Helens, and the day at the beach was over.

—Tamara Roark-Shoup

When it erupted, I was at the Walla Walla fairgrounds, where our race horses were stabled for races later that day. We heard the news on the radio of the St. Helens eruption. Panicked and frozen with fear were my children, home and horses all gone? we went to a pay phone to call, and couldn’t get through.

I was hysterical now. My husband had continued to listen to the radio accounts and he reasoned that all the news was coming from Portland, and they didn’t describe Vancouver as being gone or in any danger. I relaxed a little and we went ahead and raced the horses. At one o’clock, the races had to be stopped because the ash plume eclipsed the sun, and it was too dark to run the horses. I hope I never feel that kind of fear and panic again.

—Grace Harris

It was getting dark, darker and darker (shortly after) 8:30 a.m. on a sunny day in Moses Lake. Well, my brother-in-law was not much on going to church, although he believed in God. My mother said, “All right, Ted, I told you: You should be going to church. The world is coming to an end.”

—Betty Connor-Miller