Photo Left: Ash still remains on car three days after the erruption.

It was a few minutes after eight the morning of May 18,1980, in Washington state, when Mt St Helens erupted, killing people,animals and destroying thousands of acres of timberland.

Hundreds of miles away in Emida, a small town in northern Idaho ,residents heard the news and at the local cafe ,over coffee and breakfast, they dicussed the blast.No one was conserned that it might touch their lives.

Photo Right: Our dog looking down the highway after a car drove by.

Early that morning I had traveled 25 miles to St. Maries to my job,as a cook, at Valley Vista Care Center. The blast was the main topic of conversation for residents and employee's alike. All TV programs turned to news and special updates were given every few minutes.It was world wide news.Even though the news alerts reported the ash was blowing east we still wern't really concerned although the sunny day was tuming cold.

By late afternoon the sun became dim and the sky began to change from blue to light yellow and on to orange. Someone remarked"it looks like a forest fire".

It was was getting dark by four o'clock and would stay that way until the next morning. Next the ash began to fall, looking a little like snow, and it continued to fall through out the night.All employee's from the kitchen staff, except myself were sent home early. It was too late for me to get back to Emida, the roads were already dangerous. Any movement caused the fine gritty ash to swirl around and blow causing the visability to be very reduced.

Looking towards main hwy. after truck had gone by, you can see three teenagers in background through the ash dust.

As I finished in the kitchen, the nurse came by to offer her help. We dressed in garbage bags and covered our heads and put on surgery masks. We had been warned to cover our noses and mouths before going outside. No one seemed to know if the ash was dangerous to breath.

On taking the garbage outside we noticed her new car was getting covered in the ash and we decided to cover it with a blanket, not knowing if it would ruin the paint. Later when we removed the blanket so she could drive the short distance to her home, we could not believe the heaviness of the ash. She told me some of the patients some in their 80's and 90's had been upset. Some thought the blast was the atomic bomb thinking we were again at war. Others believed it was the end of the world. By bedtime they had become more calm.

I had called my family earlier and informed them I would be staying in town. My supervisor and her husband lived near by and they had graciously invited me to their home for the days I would need to stay in town. The next morning I looked out the window and saw a little lady dusting the ash off her flowers,with a feather duster.

My son Brian hosing down the roof after sweeping it. As you can see he is wearing a surgical mask.

I did photojournal work for the local weekly paper and everyone knew I never went anywhere without my camera. The day of the eruption I had forgotten my camera at home, and I missed the "photo ofa lifetime" (to bad because I would have loved to have used the photo of the lady here)

My son, and my daughter and husband lived in Emida. She was expecting a baby in August. I was worried about the effect of the ash on the unborn baby. She was 50 miles away from her physician so I was calling her several times a day.

The road crews were working hard to clear the roads and private citizens were doing all they could to clean up.

After a few days I was able to get back home,but every mile of travel was hard. The ash was still swirling and churning. There had been no mail ,delivery trucks could not get through and schools were closed. We all worried about the problems with engines in our cars.

Ash on tires, photo taken 4 days after blast.

On returning home,my son ,his friends and I went to work cleaning with shovels , rakes and the garden hose. The roof had to be cleaned and everything washed off. After a few hours the flower garden looked as beautiful as ever. After washing off the ash, the flowers stood back up not killing a one.

Our house was built in 1972 and we had commented many times what a good job the carpenter had done. With double pane windows and every crack filled with calking it had been literly dust free.Now ash was a different problem it blew in through minute cracks we couldn't even see.

It took years to get rid of the after effects and I'm sure to this day it would be easy to dig up ash.

I have always believed if we have faith we can think of something good that comes after a disaster. The next two years gave us the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. They were caused from the fine particles of ash in the air.

Every now and then we speak of the ermption and feel thankful it wasn't any worse for us and feel sadness for the people that lost their lives and property.

We have all gone on with our lives but will never forget the day the sun turned yellow and then to orange and day turned to night.

I need not have worried about my tiny unborn grandchild. The baby was a healthy boy and has a younger brother. They both attend college and are making thier mother and the family very proud.

All photo's by Louise Ells at Emida, Idaho
Written by Louise Ells

  • Return To Idaho @
    Copyright 2000 Roxann Gess Smith
    All Rights Reserved