Yakima marks the 30th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens eruption - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Yakima marks the 30th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens eruption

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 YAKIMA, Wash. – City leaders marked the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens Tuesday, remembering the major challenge the event created for the city.

Neighborhoods were closed and residents stayed home for the first 10 days until the city could return to normal.

"I thought we're in for a heck of a thunderstorm here and then it started to sprinkle ash and I realized there's something unusual about this, could it have been a fire?" said City Manager Dick Zais, recalling the morning of May 18, 1980.

Zais had started in his position with the city about a year earlier.

"Then I got a call from police dispatch that said no indeed this was the St. Helens eruption and ash cloud was beginning to overtake us," he said.

The cost of the local response needed in Yakima was $5.5 million. Zais says part of the challenge was having no template on how to lead a react to this type of a disaster.

The eruption of the volcano killed 57 people. The explosion, fires, mud, and flooding that followed, destroyed 250 homes, 47 bridges, and miles of highway and railway. Nearly 230 square miles were lost to volcanic deposit as well.

The city manager says the event was one of the most memorable moments in his entire career with the city so far and that the disaster united the city.

"Difficult times often and in the case of a potential crisis of that nature, they bring people together," said Zais. "They bring the best out of our citizenry and our public services."

Special exhibits have been created to mark the anniversary at city hall and the Yakima Valley Museum. 

The city has collected pictures from the recovery and is playing radio reports from the first day of the eruption. Containers of volcanic ash from Yakima and other local artifacts are on display at the museum.

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