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Eruption survivor Mike Moore added more risk to his life

Eruption survivor Mike Moore added more risk to his life

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Escaping death at Mount St. Helens gave Mike and Lu Moore a new philosophy for life: Give it all you've got.

The couple, who lived in Silver Lake at the time, spent nearly two days trekking through miles of ash and downed trees with their young daughters until they were airlifted out of the Green River Valley about 30 hours after the volcano exploded on May 18, 1980.

"Living near the edge is more exciting, and lots more fun, than trying to avoid all risks," Mike Moore wrote in a copyrighted story the couple penned 18 years after the experience.

The Moores, who were divorced in 1982, overcame old fears and plunged into adventure. Mike Moore solo-piloted the entire coast of Washington in a 14-foot inflatable boat. Lu Moore took up heavy-duty white-water rafting and solo backpacking and made a radical career change from grocery checker to journeyman pipefitter.

"We had passed a test that would change our lives forever," Mike Moore wrote. But in a recent interview for the 30th anniversary of the eruption, Moore, 65 and now of Longview, said he has never asked himself the reverse question: What would his life had been like if the mountain had not erupted that day?

"What happens, happens, and when it's done, it's done," he said. "There's no going back. Whatever decisions lead you to get to that point are irrevocable."

The only "what if" that comes to mind, he said, is what if they had camped in one of the other places they considered - an old Forest Service shed about 100 yards from their car, and a campsite near the Green River another 100 yards past that. Both places were occupied, so they kept looking for a good spot until they had hiked 2 1/2 miles from their car.

"The two guys at the forest shed, one got a broken leg and very bad burns," Moore said. "The other one was in pretty bad shape, but managed to walk out."

At the second campsite, a tree fell on a tent, killing local residents Karen Varner and Terry Crall.

"There's no use looking back," Moore said. "If we had camped there, maybe things would have been different. Maybe we would have been under that tree."

That Sunday morning, the Moores had been cooking breakfast at their camp along the Green River. The couple, then in their early 30s, along with 4-year-old Bonnie and 3-month-old Terra, were camped 13 air miles north of the summit of Mount St. Helens, with two ridges and a mountain between the volcano and their campsite.

When they felt the earthquake at 8:32 a.m., then saw the spreading plume of ash, Mike snapped a series of photos and then helped Lu get the children to shelter in a dilapidated old miners' shack. Hot globs of ash, dry ash and small rocks blotted out all light for more than 30 minutes. They couldn't even see the lightning strikes hitting within a few hundred feet of them.

It took them all day to walk about a mile and a half through the devastation. Coming up against a blown-down forest, they tried for eight hours to find a way through it before giving up and making camp.

A rescue helicopter found them the next morning.

Afterward the Moores lobbied for the preservation of the area as a large volcanic monument.

Despite the impact of the day on his life, Mike Moore rarely thinks about it, even on the anniversary.

"Since year 10, the only time I ever think of the mountain is when the media calls me," he said.

"The only time I've gone up to the volcano itself is if I'm going up with news crews," he said. "I talked one into landing the chopper in the crater. ... That was a really neat experience."

As a constant rockfall rained down the crater walls, "I got to go up and kick the dome."


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Related to this story

If Mount St. Helens hadn't erupted May 18, 1980, 57 people, most from the Lower Columbia region and Pacific Northwest, would not have perished…

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