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Mount St Helens

May 2005 | by Lloyd and Doris Anderson

Testimony to creation

by Lloyd and Doris Anderson

Twenty-five years ago, on 18 May 1980, Mount St Helens in south-west Washington State, USA, erupted with the force of 20,000 atom bombs. The eruption plunged two-thirds of a cubic mile of mountain into the valley below, destroyed 234 square miles of forest, and launched a mud flow that extended 68 miles to block the Columbia River shipping channel. More importantly, it blew an embarrassing hole in the claim that the earth must be very old.

The eruption changed the entire area beyond description in just nine hours. But for 60 days before that, molten rock rising from deep in the earth had been pooling inside the mountain — producing a vast bulge high on the North Slope.

People watched and waited but few realised that those 60 days were a warning of almost incalculable destruction.

At 8.32am on Sunday 18 May, a strong earthquake caused the bulge to fail. Within seconds cracks opened, suddenly relieving the pent-up pressure of molten rock — which exploded, tearing an enormous hole in the side of the mountain.

The entire top and interior of the mountain burst out through the opening into the valley 3,500 feet below.

Meanwhile, to the later astonishment of scientists, the blast raced horizontally northward at speeds exceeding 300mph, destroying trees up to 17 miles from the mountain and killing 57 people.

Once the top of the mountain was gone, the volcano erupted vertically until 5.30pm, sending ash around the world. In the afternoon a massive mudflow began to pour out of the landslide. This one-day event was followed by many smaller eruptions until the volcano finally fell silent in 1986.

Significance

Creation scientists studied the different kinds of canyons and the curious layering of rock left by the eruptions. Among them is geologist Steven A. Austin who has geology degrees from three highly regarded universities — Washington, San Jose State and Penn State. He has specialised in strata and has found much evidence that the earth’s strata are young. He began to speak widely on ‘Mount St Helens: Explosive evidence for catastrophe’.

Traditionally, geologists believe that canyons and stratification were formed slowly over extremely long periods of time. Now we know that is not necessarily true.

No one observed the processes that produced the geological formations of prehistory — but the entire world watched those that created the formations at Mt St Helens. The speed with which these features were formed must cast doubt on explanations for earth’s geology that depend on the passage of millions of years.

Seven wonders

My wife and I had prayed for a retirement ministry. Dr Austin’s video on the eruption challenged and excited our thinking. So in 1998, with God’s guidance and provision, we moved from Seattle, Washington, to the Toutle Valley.

There, in a small building behind our home, we founded the Mount St Helens Creation Information Center to tell this story to tourists travelling the highway to the site of the eruption. This grew into the ‘7 Wonders Museum and Bookstore’ — named after seven geological phenomena produced by the eruption, namely:

1. A mountain rearranged beyond recognition in nine hours.
2. Canyons formed in five months.
3. Badlands formed in five days.
4. Layered strata formed in three hours.
5. River system formed in nine hours.
6. Sunken forests formed in ten years.
7. Fast formation of coal-bed precursors.

Memorial highway

At first, Washington State officials were distressed to have an active volcano in their backyard. But people then began thinking of the possibilities. The area could be used for scientific research, education and recreation.

By October 1982 the US government had designated 110,000 acres around the mountain as the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. Public access is restricted to a few roads, trails and viewpoints in the north half, so that scientific study of the area’s devastation and recovery will not be hindered.

The landslide had buried the valley highway, so the government came up with a grand plan. Where the highway entered the mountains it would be relocated to the ridges, high above any future landslides and mudflows.

It would have gradual ascents, sweeping curves, and breathtaking vistas. It would end on a ridge which looks directly into the crater from the north. By 1997 this scenic byway was complete.

It required 14 new bridges and cost $165 million. Named Spirit Lake Memorial Highway and numbered State Route 504, it begins at Interstate 5, one-third of the way between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. It attracts half a million visitors annually.

Five world-class visitor centers, that cost $34.9 million to build, stand along the highway’s 52 miles. These centers all have an evolutionary orientation. The 7 Wonders Museum alone presents the creation viewpoint of origins.

Telling our story

Located 9.5 miles from I-5 on the new highway, the museum lies in the Lower Toutle Valley, 600 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is encompassed on three sides by forested hills and the top 2,000 feet of Mount St Helens are visible 27 miles in the distance.

We have prepared a 20 item ‘Mount St Helens Visitor/Resource packet’. Many of its papers can be read, copied or downloaded from our web site. The museum display room has pictures and text on three walls which tell the story of the 7 wonders, while 170 creationist titles are for sale, alongside many free papers.

Over 2,100 people visited us last year. A typical week might include hosting several groups of various ages. We serve refreshments and sometimes dinner, teach an hour-long slide presentation on the evidences for creation, and give them a tour of the blast zone — all without charge (the center is supported by donations from happy visitors and resource sales).

A message from God

Many people today doubt evolution’s conclusions that man is descended from apes and earlier mammals — or that the earth, perfectly adapted as it is to support intelligent life, happened by chance.

But few realise that there is good science to support another viewpoint. Dr Austin says that the eruption of Mount St Helens was a gift from God to our generation — the Creator has set forth with great drama evidences that argue for a straightforward reading of Scripture.

Outside the Monument reserve itself, trees replanted in the blast zone by timber companies are already 70 feet tall. Within the Monument, where the landslide was hundreds of feet thick, vegetation is dense in places. Biological recovery has been so rapid that textbooks have had to be rewritten.

In September 2004 the mountain awoke after 16 years of silence and began to ooze lava into the crater — about a dump-truck load every second. At that rate the mountain would be restored to its former height in a decade. What might God be saying this time?