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By Robert Arleth
My employer was sending me to Washington State University in Pullman to interview candidates for possible summer work in our office. The plan was for me to travel from Tacoma to Spokane (the Friday before the eruption), spend the weekend at my parents’ house in Spokane and travel to WSU on Monday for the arranged student interviews. Well, we didn’t know at the time but that obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Spending the weekend with my parents included going to their lake cabin on Loon Lake for a relaxing time in the sun and water. Shortly after midday, we started seeing this giant, very dark cloud coming over. The mountain had erupted, and we knew nothing about it. Turning on the radio, we heard that St. Helens had erupted, and the cloud that was coming over was the volcanic ash from the eruption. My folks got very nervous and worried and wanted to return to their home in Spokane. So we got in the car and started for Spokane, with me driving. As we got close to Spokane, it was getting darker, and we started to encounter ash falling. The ash gradually got thicker and thicker and darker and darker.
My folks were really worried at this point. By this time, the ash was covering the roads, visibility was poor, traffic was a mess, intersections were crazy, traffic lights were blinking, and it was a frightening time. We were finally able to get to their house on the south hill through inches of ash and park the car in the garage out of the ash.
We watched and listened to the news to get a full picture of what was going on. People were told to stay inside and don’t drive, as the ash would harm the engine. What to do with the ash was another issue. Some said put it in the garbage, some said push it to the curb, and some said just pile it up.
It was all quite confusing, as we hadn’t experienced anything like this ever. We did a lot of shoveling of the ash, which turned out to be a real chore, but we still didn’t really know what to do with it. I can remember many, many of piles of ash all around the neighborhood!
Obviously, my Monday appointments at WSU were canceled. Pullman had the same problems as in Spokane, and everything was awry. Classes were canceled, and some students had left the campus. I waited until Tuesday so see if I could make it to Pullman but with no luck. Finally on Wednesday, with the roads somewhat clear, I drove to WSU. By that time, only a couple of students were still on campus for the interviews. I completed the interviews and drove back to Spokane. All along the way, volcanic ash was everywhere. I then returned to my work and family in Tacoma, where there was also a bit of ash. The trip was successful in that two of the interviewees did come for summer work in the office
To this day, remnants of the Mount St. Helens volcanic ash can still be seen along roadsides.