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Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 18, 1980

Ready for another Throwback Thursday entry?  I guarantee that this week's topic might spark some "heated" discussion and could cause some to "blow their tops", but it's definitely one of the events that made May 18 a very explosive date in history!

Let's have a look at what else happened on the eighteenth of May in this selection of postings.

1565 - The Great Siege of Malta begins

1652 - Rhode Island passes the first law in English-speaking America that makes owning a slave illegal

1804 - Napoleon Bonaparte is proclaimed Emperor of France; exactly one year after the United Kingdom revoked the Treaty of Amiens

1812 - John Bellingham is found guilty of assassinating British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval and is sentenced to death

1860 - Abraham Lincoln wins the Republican Party presidential nomination

1863 - The Siege of Vicksburg begins during the American Civil War

1912 - Singer Perry Como (d. 2001) is born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

1920 - Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) is born in Wadowice, Republic of Poland

1927 - A disgruntled school board member plants a series of bombs all over Bath Consolidated School in Bath County, Michigan, killing 38 students and six adults

1928 - Actor Pernell Roberts (d. 2010) is born in Waycross, Georgia

1953 - Jackie Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier

1969 - Apollo 10 is launched

1980 - Joy Division singer Ian Curtis takes his own life; he was just 23

1981 - Actor Arthur O'Connell and writer William Saroyan both die on this date - interestingly, both were born in 1908

1985 - "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds reaches #1 on the Billboard Charts

1990 - Actress Jill Ireland passes away at the age of 54

1995 - Actress Elizabeth Montgomery passes away at the age of 62

2001 - The motion picture "Shrek" is released

2005 - Photos taken from the Hubble Space Telescope confirms the existence of two additional moons orbiting around Pluto - Nix and Hydra

2007 - Six years after the original was released, "Shrek The Third" is released

2013 - Actor Steve Forrest dies at the age of 87

And for celebrity birthdays, we have the following people turning one year older; Bill Macy, Priscilla Pointer, Robert Morse, Dwayne Hickman, Bruce Alexander, Reggie Jackson, Gail Strickland, Joe Bonsall, Mark Mothersbaugh, George Strait, Wreckless Eric, Chow Yun-fat, Toyah Willcox, Marty McSorley, Mimi Macpherson, Martika, Tina Fey, Billy HowerdelChantal KreviazukJack Johnson, David Nail, Allen Leech, Asia Vieira, and Jessica Watson.

(Oh, and's my birthday too...but I'm not a celebrity.  Just putting it out there.)

Anyway, happy birthday to everyone celebrating today!

All what I really wanted to do was find a topic that corresponded with my actual date of birth...but nothing really exciting happened.  In fact, one of the most talked about historical events of May 18 happened before I was born, and I missed it completely.

That event happened on May 18, 1980.  And I'm sure if you were living on the West Coast of the United States or Canada at that time, you probably already know the subject I have chosen.  For those that don't, I'll tell you.

I'm sure most of us have built one of those volcano models for a science fair project at some point in our lives.  It's one of the most replicated science projects all over the world, but yet there's still something satisfying about mixing baking soda and vinegar together to create a messy chain reaction that sends torrents of "lava" cascading down the volcano's Play-Doh sides!

Of course, the lava that was used inside the classroom volcanoes was mostly harmless - provided you didn't get any in your eyes, of course.  In real life, volcanoes can be quite deadly.  It's not just the molten rock and magma flowing out the top of the volcano that you have to worry about.  The poisonous ash and potential rock slides can also be a nightmare to deal with as well.  

I mean, just ask Diddy and Dixie Kong about just how dangerous a volcano can be!

While there have been several instances of volcanic eruptions that have taken place all over the world over the last million years or so - in recent history there have only been two that have taken place in North America.  One was the Lassen Peak eruption in California that took place in 1915.  The second one took place thirty-seven years ago today.  And it was a much larger, much deadlier blast.

This is the story of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption.  One that I missed by 365 days.

While the actual eruption took place on May 18, 1980, signs that all was not right with the mountain began to show up a little over two months earlier.  In March 1980, a series of small earthquakes started to take place on and around the mountain.  The people in the area didn't think too much of it at first, given that the west coast of the United States and Canada was covered with fault lines.  And prior to 1980, the volcano was dormant for well over one hundred years.

A few days after the series of tiny earthquakes began, a much larger 4.2 quake took place on March 20, centered below the north flank of the volcano, which was essentially the warning to everybody that magma was starting to flow underneath and that the volcano was becoming active once more.  Over the next few weeks leading up to the weekend of May 17, 1981, a series of earthquakes took place almost like clockwork, with the intensity gradually increasing each time.  The vibrations within the mountain would cause sheets of snow and ice to cascade down the side.  By the end of March, a few craters opened up at the top of the mountain thanks to the consistent seismic activity, and smoke began to billow out the top.  A state of emergency was declared the first week of April, and by the first of May, Governor Dixy Lee Ray had ordered a "red zone" to be extended around the perimeter of the volcano.   Anyone who was caught within the red zone would be subjected to a $500 fine, or be jailed for half a year.

During the first part of May, it seemed as though things were calming down, and tests that were done prior to May 18 showed that there were no changes that would indicate a massive eruption.  But at 8:32 am on the morning of May 18, those test results would blow up in everybody's faces.

It was at that time that a 5.1 magnitude earthquake took place directly below the north slope, and it was that earthquake that caused that slope to fall apart.  It triggered the largest landslide in recorded history!  The rocks toppled thousands of trees, and temporarily displaced the water that was within Spirit Lake.

As a result of the landslide, a gigantic ash cloud billowed out the top of the volcano with its estimated height reaching approximately 24 kilometres high and its diameter being 64 kilometres wide!  No wonder the entire area around the volcano was blanketed with lots of ash!  A pyroclastic flow of lava poured out of the volcano.  At one time, the lava flow was so quick it reached a top speed of 670 mph!  The temperature of the lava was extremely hot as well, with the highest temperature recorded at approximately 680 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unfortunately, the explosion at Mount St. Helens caused more than just a lot of damage and permanent disfiguration of the area around the volcano.  Those unlucky enough to be in the path of destruction didn't live to tell the tale.  A total of fifty-seven people were killed that day - though not because of the intense heat of the lava.  Most of those who died succumbed to suffocation caused by the intense smoke and ash that rained down above them, though a few did have fatal burn wounds caused by the lava and the fires that erupted.

Among the deceased were lodge owner Harry R. Truman, aged 83.  He refused to leave his home outside of the mountain despite the red zone being put in place and the mandatory evacuations that were in effect at the time.  Also caught in the path of destruction was volcanologist David A. Johnston, and a pair of photographers - National Geographic's Reid Blackburn and Robert Landsburg.  Incredibly, Landsburg's camera footage survived, as his body protected the film inside.  

It's been almost four decades since the eruption of Mount St. Helens.  A large crater where the north face once was remains.  The direct area of the blast is still very much a wasteland of sorts, with dead trees littering various parts of the area and holes in the ground where trees once stood.  Scorch marks can still be seen in some areas due to the lava and fires that spread throughout the area.  The mountain which once stood at 9,677 feet in height lost over 1,300 feet in height following the eruption.  The estimated cost of the disaster was well over $1.1 billion.

And yet, to this day, Mount St. Helens remains an active volcano of sorts, with the last recorded eruption taking place in January 2008.  It's unclear as to whether or not the volcano could erupt once more and cause more damage, but I'm sure anybody who was around on May 18, 1980 won't even forget that day.

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