Mount St. Helens (1980)   7 comments

Via Google Maps and US gov’t satellite data.

On March 20, 1980, northeast of Portland, over the state line to Washington state, a series of earthquakes began at Mount St. Helens.

This was followed on March 27 by a pair of explosions, forming a crater at the north face; the volcano, previously dormant for over 100 years, began to spew ash.

Minor earthquakes and intermittent eruptions followed in the weeks after. The crater, in the meantime, expanded.

By April 30, the governor of Washington had signed an executive order creating “red” and “blue” zones of danger.

The Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1980.

While nearly all people were evacuated from the red zone, hundreds of scientists, campers, hikers, and curiosity seekers stayed in the blue zone five miles away. It wasn’t far enough.

Public domain photo from USGS.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded. The geologists Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were in an airplane above when the event happened.

From our viewpoint, the initial cloud appeared to mushroom laterally to the north and plunge down. Within seconds, the cloud had mushroomed enough to obscure our view … The pilot opened full throttle and dove quickly to gain speed. He estimates that we were going 200 knots. The cloud behind us mushroomed to unbelievable dimensions and appeared to be catching up with us. Since the clouds were billowing primarily in a northerly direction, we turned south, heading straight toward Mount Hood.

Robert Payne, Mike Hubbard, and Keith Moore were fishing, sixteen miles northwest.

Hubbard: We could see half a mile of ridgeline. The cloud suddenly loomed over the ridge as a wall. It didn’t continue up but flowed down through the forest toward us. The front was a thousand feet high—boiling, gray, turbulent, coming very fast.

I dropped my pole and ran down the bank. I looked back and already it was almost on us, a hundred yards back. Bob ran just behind me, and I glimpsed Keith forty yards back running from the river into taller timber. Just ahead of me was a huge maple tree, four feet in diameter. I dove in behind it, Bob dove in, and it turned black.

Payne: It enveloped us, pitch black and indescribably hot. Thunder like heavy artillery close by lasted ten seconds—trees coming down, I think. Then came heavy rumbling and thunder from the mountain, and lightning in the cloud. A fierce wind knocked me back onto Mike. It lasted half a minute. It was like Navy boot camp when we jumped into water with fire on it, but this much hotter and longer.

Venus Dergan and Roald Reitan were camping 30 miles away.

As they scrambled to the car, a lahar from the eruption was speeding down the river towards them—hot mud from the volcano that had been cooled by the river until it was the temperature of bath water. Upriver from their campsite, they could see a train trestle holding back a mass of mud and debris. Their car wouldn’t start and they watched as the mudflow hit the train trestle, unleashing the debris that quickly engulfed their car. They climbed to the roof, the mudflow picking up the car and sweeping it upriver. Dergan and Reitan were thrown into the river, which had quadrupled in size, as their car drifted away like a boat.

All the people mentioned above survived, but not everyone did; in the end, 57 people died.

A month later, Victor Albino decided to write a game based on the events (originally, it appears, for the Commodore PET). In March 1981 it landed in the magazine SoftSide for the TRS-80.

Victor writes:

“Volcano” is an TRS-80 educational adventure game requiring at least 16K memory.

As one of the snow-capped jewels of Washington’s Cascade Range, Mount St. Helens ruled with majestic silence for 123 years. Then on Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., it erupted in a mammoth fury which paralyzed much of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite these elements and the odds, almost 200 people were saved from the mountain by brave crews in rescue helicopters. This program, based on actual eyewitness accounts, recreates the experiences related by these survivors.

If you had been one of those present near the mountain that Sunday morning, would you have managed to survive?

The TRS-80 version of the game is fairly serious about the educational angle, even giving a volcano diagram and a glossary of terms.

I’ve merged two screenshots here, with the four lines of text and the image that followed it.

The game is also the first “pure” choice-based game written for a computer that I know of; that is, it could be rendered strictly as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

There is no “world state” or “inventory” because every wrong move you take will kill you. Under Sam Kabo Ashwell’s taxonomy, it’s a deadly gauntlet.

Here is the result of choice #1:

Choice #2:

Choice #3 (the correct one):

This is three screenshots merged into one.

I’m guessing you get the idea — by the end you get rescued by helicopter (depending on which version you’re playing, with a little animation to go with it).

If you’d like to partake of this unique piece of computing history, this link will play the TRS-80 version online, or you can download the 1980 Commodore PET version here.

Posted June 11, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Mount St. Helens (1980)

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  1. Quite possibly you’re well aware of this and it is just the lack of another comma that is making the phrasing seem unclear, but Portland is in Oregon. (i.e., “northeast of Portland, in Washington state, …” instead)

    Off topic, is the disappearance of Google account as a login option for commenting intentional? I see WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook, but the “G” logo isn’t there anymore. (Though as it happens I can still use my Gmail address since I have a Gravatar linked to it.)

    • That could definitely use a comma. Thanks.

      I haven’t changed any settings. Maybe WordPress messed with the defaults. I’ll look into it.

      • I wonder if changing to the .blog domain changed some login settings, or reset to some defaults changed by WordPress or something? When the changeover happened it stopped letting me comment under my email address without logging in (because I have a gravatar or WordPress account under that email address), and I’ve never been able to figure out how to log in on wordpress comment sections with that email address, so I’m commenting using a fake address.

        (It’s a real mess because I am logged in on this browser on WordPress! WordPress and gravatar are fighting somehow, i think.)

      • Testing… it seems as though if click the W I get logged in to wordpress, so I get my mudskipper icon instead of my cat icon. This is probably not of interest to anyone.

  2. The eruption of Mount St. Hellen was an inspiration for many fictional events, such as the awakening of the transformers. ;-)

    https://tfwiki.net/wiki/Mount_St._Hilary

  3. That was interesting to play, but boy there was not much of it! Only eight branch points, and in all cases the “wrong” decisions lead to insta-deaths.

  4. This was actually pretty enjoyable. The death messages were funny in a morbid way. Since it’s so short I played through most of the branches to see them.

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