A napping volcano blinked awake in March 1980. Two months later, when that mountain roared, Jim Scymanky was logging a slope above Hoffstadt Creek. “Rocks zinged through the woods, bouncing off trees, then the tops of trees snapped off…Suddenly I could see nothing…it got hot right away, then scorching hot and impossible to breathe…I was being cremated, the pain unbearable.”
Mike Hubbard was further away—sixteen miles northwest, near Green River. “I was on my knees, my back to the hot wind. It blew me along, lifting my rear so I was up on my hands…It was hot but I didn’t feel burned—until I felt my ears curl.”
Steve Malone, at the University of Washington Seismology Laboratory, was inconsolable. “We’d failed. For two months we’d counted and located thousands of earthquakes, looked for changes to anticipate an eruption. Then it just happened. It killed many people…We could hardly work.”
Author Richard Waitt was part of a U.S. Geological Survey team conducting volcano research in the Cascades, and was one of the first to arrive following the mountain’s early rumblings. His journey collecting eyewitness accounts began with a conversation in a bar the third week after Mount St. Helens erupted. The couple he met barely outraced a searing ash cloud, and Waitt realized their experiences could inform geologic studies. He eventually completed hundreds of interviews—sometimes two and three decades later—often making multiple visits.
A meticulous scientist with intimate knowledge of Mount St. Helens, Waitt also tapped legal depositions, personal diaries, geologists’ field notes, and more to present a detailed and accurate chronicle of events. In the Path of Destruction depicts the eruption through unforgettable, riveting narratives—the heart of a masterful chronology that also delivers engrossing science, history, and journalism.
Listen to Richard Waitt’s interview about how eyewitness accounts helped scientists on OPB’s Think Out Loud.
Illustrations / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 416 pages (2015)