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30 March 2016

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson is an account of the worst volcanic event in US history and its scientific and social backstory.

For months in early 1980 the Cascadia fault line under Mount St. Helens in the southwest Washington state began rumbling - concerning scientists and nearby residents and exciting media and sightseers. Scientists (volcanologists) at the time new little about the type of eruption that was to happen, but swarmed the area trying to both study the mountain data and give locals a warning if any large-scale events.

The government officials danced between restricting access to potentially dangerous area and popularity with hikers and residents. After a couple of weeks of shaking and some ash expulsion, things seemed to quiet down. But on one side of mountain a bulge began to grow. At some point, it could slide downhill or, if enough pressure built, erupt.

On the morning of Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:33am Mount St. Helens exploded. Instead of the stereotypical eruption straight up into the air, the bulge opened and slid, with a destructive, boiling cloud heading north, northeast and northwest. The sideways angle allowing the destruction to travel farther that anyone thought possible.

Olson tells the story of the people in the area that morning, including the 57 people killed and the survivors to made it through the eruption / ash storm, but starting earlier with the lumber tycoon who owned miles of forest around the mountain and early efforts to protect our wild land. Eruption is a great narrative nonfiction book that brings both the science and people of the Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption to life.

I remember where I was the day it erupted. I was 10 years old, in third grade, living in a small town in Northern California. A friend and I were playing in the backyard. The sky filled with ash that day - giant flakes - as the sun dimmed even though we were about 700 miles south of Mount St. Helens. Ash affected eleven US states and five Canadian provinces. I cannot fathom the power behind such an event.

Olson, Steve. (2016). Eruption. New York: WW Norton and Company, Inc.

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