The story of Mount St. Helens is usually told as the power of nature to destroy and then regenerate itself. That's pretty much what ...
“Echoes of Fury: The 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens and the Lives It Changed Forever”
by Frank Parchman
Epicenter Press, 432 pp., $24.95
The story of Mount St. Helens is usually told as the power of nature to destroy and then regenerate itself.
That’s pretty much what you get if you visit the national monument today: a lesson in the science of how it erupted with a force a thousand times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, and how the ecosystem has impressively revived in the 25 years since.
But as Redmond writer Frank Parchman makes plain in “Echoes of Fury,” the May 18, 1980, blast sent some of its biggest shock waves through the lives of people — some of whom didn’t bounce back as certainly as the plants and animals.
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There’s a volcanologist who is haunted by guilt because he switched shifts with another geologist, who died.
There are young lovers who survive a torrent of mud only to lose their relationship when the trauma of the experience comes between them.
And there’s the angry sister of a man killed in the blast who devotes decades of her life battling to rejuvenate the memories of the 57 who died that day.
This last theme — that the dead were wronged by the government — forms the book’s emotional core. But it’s also the most disappointing. The premise is that after the mountain rumbled to life two months before the major eruption, state government backed off on banning people from a 20-mile radius around the cone due to pressure from Weyerhaeuser, which wanted to log in the area.
That some of the 57 deaths could have been prevented if the state hadn’t kowtowed to corporate influence is a provocative claim. But the book doesn’t unearth any new evidence that wasn’t presented in trials in the mid-1980s, in which courts ruled — properly, it seems — that nobody was to blame because the blast was so much bigger than expected.
What the book lacks in investigative firepower it makes up with human interest. Parchman skillfully interweaves eight narratives to tell the mountain’s story through the people who either miraculously lived or tragically died there.
The best parts feature a young reporter, Andre Stepankowsky, who in 1980 seemed set to bolt out of small-town Longview as fast as possible.
Instead, he becomes obsessed with the mountain’s powerful hold on his community and helps The Daily News win a Pulitzer for its coverage of the eruption.
He remains there today, running the paper’s tiny news staff, still as captivated as the rest of us as the unpredictable volcano rumbles to life again.
Danny Westneat is a metro columnist for The Seattle Times.