Welcome back to our lolspeak review of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction. In this edition: we see how frantic things got even on the relatively safer south side. There really isn't any such thing as a safe place to be when you're right next to a furiously erupting volcano.

Chapter 14: South

We are, of course, south of the volcano. Most of the excitement happened to the north - that's where the lateral blast was. People often neglect the south, but lemme tell ya, some dramatic happenings happened there, too. Let's see what the witnesses have to relate.

Let's start with the poor buggers planting trees in the early ay-em on Sunday, and the US Forest Service folks supervising them. They'd spent the previous week planting just 8 miles east-northeast. Now they're a mere 5 miles south. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the wee little seedlings are going into the ground, soon to become happy little trees.

And then the ground starts to shake. And then the trees sway, and a two-headed eruption column shoots up from the summit.

Kathy Anderson, Kran Kilpatrick, Valerie Sigfridson, and Kate Brennan to the planters and radioing headquarters in Cougar: Ohai, eruption! Let's go way nao!

Foreman of planting crew: "Run for your lives! We're gonna get burnt up!"

Well, that's one way to motivate your people and prevent dilly-dallying in a crisis...

OMG, the south side views sound like an apocalypse, too! As they fled, the tree-planting crew could see eruption clouds billowing from both the east and west sides of the mountain. They of course couldn't see what was going on to the north, but they could see the enormous gray cloud racing away to the northeast. The clouds hurled rocks. About ninety seconds later, Kilpatrick watched as "three explosions on the south blew in tight succession east to west, like primer cord - tan plumes unlike the dark gray ones." Those seemed to roll straight toward them, with rocks shooting out. I'm not sure, but I think they just got to watch a major portion of the summit come apart. And it definitely sounds like they're seeing pyroclastic flows.


So, people react in strange ways to danger. As the planting crews fled, lots of them screamed, some of them completely panicked, the foreman had to break up a fight, and two of them thought they had a genius idea.

Planters to Inspector John Morris: We're going to run into the woods!

Morris: "You'll die."

Planters: ....

They got back in their van.

You can never quite prepare for a situation like this, and you never know how you'll react until you're in it. But do please try to refrain from fist-fighting and suchlike if you're fleeing a volcanic eruption or similar. Also, listen to your supervisor when they explain that hiding in the woods probably won't save you from an eruption. Kthxbai.


The tree-planting crew also learned a sad truth: we may think we can give folks plenty of warning before things get dangerous, but volcanoes and other disasters can take us by surprise no matter how closely we're monitoring. Also, the situation can become pure chaos in an instant, and warnings may come too late. Do what the crew did: pay attention to your surroundings, GTFO if the situation seems to be going awry, and make the best decisions you can based on what you're seeing.

Bonus survival tip: before anything happens, pay attention to what the professionals are telling you about possible hazards you may encounter. The crews knew to avoid all the stream valleys they possibly could, and to watch for lahars when they did have to cross a river. That knowledge, combined with their quick decision to evacuate, probably saved them from being trapped at the very least, and quite possibly saved their lives.


Ernst Hoger, Vern Putrow, and Vern's brother were fishing 12 miles south-southwest of Mount St. Helens that morning.

Mount St. Helens: Look at me! I am erupting dramatically!

Guys: Ooo, nice one.

And they keep right on fishing... until the eruption cloud fanned into a dire-looking mushroom shape. Priorities, amirite?

But they did catch another fish.

Someone more dedicated still was attempting to launch his boat when everyone else was desperately trying to get out of the water and flee. Now that's determination.


Kerri Altom was riding her Appaloosa 34 miles southwest of Mount St. Helens that morning. All was proceeding as a normal, relaxing ride, when suddenly:

Mare: *prance stop prance*

(This is a horse's way of saying, "Something has me highly upset right now, and I'm trying to keep it together, but what I really want to do is freak the frack out and run, m'kay?")

Kerri: What is it, girl? A snake?

Mare: *prance stop prance* ~NO! The mountain went kablooey!~

Kerri: It's okay, sweetie.

Mare: *prance stop prance* ~It bloody well is NOT okay! Huge eruption! Much danger! Gargh, humans are so dense!~

Kerri: Aw, I'll bet you have something stuck in your hoof. Lemme take care of that.

Mare: *Lets owner check hooves with a vexed sigh* ~I've TOLD you it's an ERUPTION!~

Kerri: Hmm. Nothing.

A noise makes her look toward Mount St. Helens, which is enveloped in a huge eruption cloud.

Kerri: Ohhhh....

Mare: ~What did I tell you?!~

We should really learn the languages of animals. Then we wouldn't look like such impossible fools when they're letting us know we've missed an important detail. Or, y'know, the entire start of a major eruption.

That's all for this episode. Next: we'll discover just how loud a catastrophic eruption can be.

Photo of my copy of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction, which has a black and white photo of Mount St. Helens erupting.

The full list of ITPOD posts is available here. If you want to forge ahead, you can pick up your own copy of In the Path of Destruction here. Purchases through that link help support my blogging, so thank you!