Back in time to Mount St. Helens: News coverage of the 1980 eruption

- Dr. Janine Krippner

Today marks another anniversary of the deadly eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington, USA. This eruption was one of those events where most remember where they were around the world when they heard the news. It changed the lives of those around the volcano - those who lost friends or family, their homes, their view of the local landscape, and their belief that 'it won't happen to me'. Fifty-seven people were lost, including volcanologist David Johnston (his biography is out now here). People around the world know this volcano after this day.

Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Courtesy of USGS.

Thirty-nine years ago the world watched as the eruption took place, so what did they see? What it was like for those who experienced the eruption firsthand? What did the rest of the country see through the experiences of reporters and those who were there?

When the next continental-US volcano erupts some of us will be there. Some of us will have to clean up ash or mud (depending on the eruption type). The rest of us will watch the news and social media. This is how most of us are fortunate enough to experience natural disasters, and how many remember them.

This collection of videos includes footage leading up to, during, and after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.



Footage of Mount St. Helens on 11 May 1980. Reporters from Channel 2 News visit the summit of the volcano, heavily coated with ash. Includes footage of the crater and the fractures on the summit.


The 6 pm and 11 pm KATU 2 news including USGS Bob Christenson, and U.S. Forest Service Jim Unterwanger. Includes interviews with people coming out of the eruption area, and footage of the lahars down the Toutle River.


KOMO News 4 evening report on the eruption. "Mount St. Helens will never be the same again, perhaps all of us will quite be the same, never so smug about our ability to control mother nature..." - Bob Throndsen.


KEZI 9 News looks back to when they were called 'Eyewitness News'. They interviewed people giving accounts of running from the erupting volcano.


CBS News reports on the eruption three days later, including the now-famous photos taken by Gary Rosenquist. They talk to Keith and Dorothy Stoffel, geologists who got footage of the eruption.


Komo 4 News interviews Dave Crockett who was caught under the ash plume on May 18. He recorded his experience that day as the ash plume moved over him.


KGW-TV reports on the eruption, looking back to earlier explosions as the eruption progressed.


ABC news looks back at news reports from April, 1980 showing footage of the earlier ash plumes, interviews with Harry Truman, and the aftermath of the eruption. Footage of the cleanup efforts around the volcano, showing how hard it can be to clean up a few inches of ash.


CBS News (WBBM Channel 2) news including President Carter visiting the disaster zone, and the the effects of the eruption. Aired on 21 May 1980.


KCTS9 report including interviews with people living in the nearby Ritzville and Cougar telling how this eruption affected them. Footage shows lahars flooding the Toutle river and the reactions of those who saw it.


An ABC News Bulletin interrupts Charlie's Angels to report the largest eruption since May 25th.


Good Morning America thinks back to the eruption four years later. Shows the dome that grew and lahar deposits.


Former Lewis County Sheriff Bill Wiester talks about his experiences searching through the devastated area, 30 years later. Includes photographs of the recovery efforts.


It will happen again. It happens around the world more frequently than you might realize. It is important that we remember what happened, how lives were taken and how those who remained were changed. We need to shake our 'it won't happen to me' beliefs and realize that these people were just like us now. Safe and unaffected, until Mount St. Helens woke up.

This article was updated for 2019.

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