Mt. St. Helens' massive eruption was 36 years ago today

Austin Post (Via USGS)

MT. ST. HELENS, Wash. -- Wednesday marks the 36th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens' massive eruption that wreaked havoc across the Pacific Northwest.

The catastrophic eruption happened at 8:32 a.m. May 18, 1980, sending up an estimated 3.2 billion tons of ash that blocked out the sun and blew off more than 1,000 feet from the top of the mountain, leaving a huge crater.

The hot ash caused major forest fires and melted the mountain's snow cap, causing floods.

In all, 57 people were killed and damage was estimated at over $1 billion.

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Over the last three-and-a-half decades, signs of re-growth and recovery have covered the Mount St. Helens landscape. More recently, there are signs under the earth's surface that show the volcano is recharging. Officials said the swarm of earthquakes doesn't indicate an imminent eruption.

Today, visitors to the Gifford Pinocht National Forest can check out several events dedicated to the 36th anniversary of the eruption. The Mount St. Helens Institute is hosting "Special Views and Brews" event to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the eruption. It runs from 6:30-8 p.m. with a $5 suggested donation.

Visitors can also check out special presentations commemorating the scientific discoveries of Mt. St. Helens in the Johnston Ridge Observatory Theater.

Mt. St. Helens is currently the most active volcano in the Cascades, and scientists are exploring the magma chamber below the mountain with ultrasound and CAT scans.

They hope to improve volcanic monitoring and advance warning systems.

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