Tourists have been coming back to Mount Saint Helens in the western state of Washington, for the 25th anniversary of the big eruption that killed 57 people and destroyed hundreds of kilometers of forest.
On May 18,1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted after a century of relative quiet. Fifty seven people died and towns 400 kilometers away were coated with ash. 350 square kilometers of forest were leveled and most signs of life near the volcano disappeared within minutes. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered the collapse of the volcano's bulging north flank, producing a landslide of historic proportions.
Two years later, the U.S. Congress designated 45,000 hectares surrounding the volcano as Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Biologist Charlie Chrisafulli from the US Forest Service has been documenting the return of life to the region for several years. He says some areas are filled with trees planted by a timber company, while nature is doing the job in the north and west parts of the mountain. He is pleased at how resilient life is.
“Surprisingly there is a lot more out there than meets the eye. From this distance, you would see that virtually all the grown forest trees, some 7 species of conifers, have indeed established out there and some are now producing seed. About 16 different species of small mammals now call the pumice plain home," says Charlie Chrisafulli.
Last September, hundreds of small earthquakes signaled Mount St. Helens reawakening after years of relative quiet. On October first, there was a burst of steam high into the sky followed by a small amount of ash. For the past few months small lava activity, earthquakes and steam have not stopped. It's just a reminder to scientists and tourists that the big giant, may not be as sound asleep as many would wish.