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An earthquake registering 5.0 on the Richter scale triggered the collapse of the fractured north side of the volcano, which was perhaps a factor in the devastating horizontal venting that followed. Tobogganing on a cushion of hot gases, the disintegrating north rock swept down over the North Fork of the Toutle River, burying it under as much as 200 feet of new fill, which spread downstream in a 15-mile-long debris flow. The lateral blast hurled a thick blanket of ash over collapsing trees, tumbled bulldozers and logging trucks, crumpled pickups and station wagons, adding to the hopelessness of rescue efforts.

Soon the nozzling of the eruption turned entirely upward, and a roiling pillar of ash thrust some 12 miles into the Sunday morning sky, flanked by nervous jabs of orange lightning. The pillar plumed eastward into a widening dark cloud that would give Yakima, 85 miles distant, midnight blackness at 9:30 a.m. and would last the day. Much of eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana would be brought to a halt by the ashfall. Within days the silt from the mountain would reach the Pacific, after causing destructive floods on the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers and closing the busy Columbia to deep-draft ships. By Wednesday the cloud would reach the Atlantic.

I refer to no notes in setting down these events, because they have cut a deep track in my mind. In fact, my memory unbidden replays sequences unendingly, perhaps because of their awesome magnitude and perhaps because they involve a deep sense of personal loss. I have only to close my eyes and ears to the present, and I see the faces and hear familiar names. ...

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