Home>News Center>World

Mount St. Helens erupts after 18 years
Updated: 2004-10-02 08:53

Mount St. Helens, the volcano that blew its top with cataclysmic force in 1980, erupted for the first time in 18 years Friday, belching a huge column of white steam and ash after days of rumblings under the mountain.

The noontime eruption cast a haze across the horizon as the roiling plume rose from the nearly 1,000-foot-tall lava dome, forcing Alaska Airlines to cancel flights and divert others around the ash.

A mid-day eruption of Mount St. Helens is shown in this photo taken from the Johnson Ridge Observatory Friday, October 1, 2004, in Washington State.[AP]

"It was such a thrill!" said Faye Ray, a retired teacher who watched from an observatory near the mountain. "I just felt we would see something today and we did."

Scientists had been predicting just such an eruption for days because of thousands of earthquakes and signs that the rock inside the crater was expanding rapidly.

The eruption was nowhere near what happened 24 years ago, when 57 people were killed and towns up to 250 miles away were showered with rock and ash.

About 20 minutes after Friday's eruption, the mountain calmed and the plume began to dissipate. The ash appeared to pose no threat to anyone, but scientists warned that people living southwest of the mountain might notice a fine film of ash on their cars. No evacuations were ordered, and there was no sign of any lava oozing from the volcano.

Few people live near the mountain, about 100 miles south of Seattle. The closest structure is the Johnston Ridge Observatory, about five miles from the crater.

"It wasn't lava-y, so I wasn't scared," said Lorain Weatherby, who was working a snack bar down the road from St. Helens. "It was like a big white cloud."

For the past week, scientists have detected thousands of earthquakes of increasing strength — as high as magnitude 3.3 — suggesting another eruption was on the way. Steam frequently rises from the crater, but the 8,364-foot peak had not erupted since 1986.

"This is exactly the kind of event we've been predicting," said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Cynthia Gardner.

The earthquakes quit after the eruption, said Jeff Wynn, another USGS scientist.

He called the eruption a "throat-clearing."

"It's dead — bone-still right now," he said. "There's nothing happening at this stage, so this may have been a single event. But the history of the volcano suggests it could be an opening salvo and we'll see more events like this."

USGS seismologist Bob Norris said magma could be moving underground and he would not be surprised to see more explosions in the next days or weeks.

"The monitoring will definitely continue on a very intense scale until we can determine that the thing has really gone back to sleep," said Tom Pierson, a USGS geologist.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle, said the plume had reached 16,000 feet in altitude.

Alaska Airlines canceled five flights scheduled to take off from Portland International Airport in Oregon, but quickly resumed its normal schedule, said spokesman Sam Sperry.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

President Hu joins park revellers on National Day



Bush, Kerry poles apart on North Korea



Weapon sales to Taiwan opposed



After debate, Bush ridicules Kerry, France



Crude settles above $50 for first time



Companies protest against US sanctions


  Pakistan vows to root out terrorists
  Blair recovering after successful heart operation
  100 dead as US troops storm rebel-held town
  Police find Utah woman's body in landfill
  Zawahri urges Muslims to hit US allies' interests
  After debate, Bush ridicules Kerry, France
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
Undersea volcano observed by US research ship
Italian volcano erupts; no injuries
  News Talk  
  Are the Republicans exploiting the memory of 9/11?