Sheriff’s warning saved dad, kids




As my two children and a friend of theirs left Longview at 5:30 a.m. to go fishing on the Toutle River, driving up the Spirit Lake Highway on that day, the mountain was absolutely beautiful with the sun shining on it with not a cloud in the sky.

The children asked me if I thought Mount St. Helens would ever blow, and I answered that it would probably be years before anything would happen if it happened at all.

As we reached our spot on the Toutle River about a quarter of a mile above the Harry Morgan Bridge we were enjoying the fishing and beautiful morning. At the moment it blew, the fish must have known it was their last life, as they were jumping all over the river and the kids were catching fish every cast out in the river.

The kids were jumping for joy, and as I didn’t want to alarm the kids, I heard the blast and saw huge black clouds above us with lighting shooting between them. In what seemed a matter of minutes, a person standing on the Harry Morgan Bridge with a bull horn was yelling up and down the river to evacuate.

I told the kids to pick up their fish and start back to the car, but they didn’t want to quit catching all of the fish. I quickly grabbed their poles and fish from them and told them to start running toward the car. They still did not know really what was going on until they saw the huge plume coming out of the mountain.

As we pulled back onto the Spirit Lake Highway, we followed a motor home that came from up the highway farther from us, and he was doing close to 60 mph, so we followed right behind.

When we came to the town of Toutle, the speed limit was 35 mph, but we didn’t pay any attention and just flew on by. We got down the highway several miles and stopped at a wide spot in the road next to Silver Lake and watched the mountain for a couple hours. That is when the fear really hit all of us and how lucky we felt that the mountain had blown out the other side of the mountain.

Later, the Toutle River where we had been fishing was destroyed, and the Harry Morgan Bridge we crossed was wiped out by the logs and debris that came down the river.

When we got back to Kelso and crossed the bridge to Longview, the debris and logs were starting to come down the Cowlitz river. What a mess! To this day, 30 years later the kids and I always call each other on May 18 to reminisce over the catastrophe and how lucky we were to still be alive thanks to a sheriff who yelled up the river for us to evacuate and we followed by getting out of there.