Looking back: Mount St. Helens eruption

MOUNT ST. HELENS, Wash. -- Thirty-four years ago on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and changed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest.

It was 8:32 a.m. when a 5.1 earthquake shook the mountain. It's north face collapsed, sending the eruptive force sideways. A plume of ash poured into the southwest Washington sky, and debris flow filled the Toutle River.

The eruption destroyed the top 1,300 feet of the mountain, and ultimately killed 57 people.

Mount St. Helens today looks frozen in place, all covered in snow. But deep down, there's a lot of hot activity - researchers said recently that magma is growing under the crater.

"Magma is re-pressurizing beneath (Mount St. Helens)," said scientist Peter Frenzen.

Geologists say they're detecting more deep earthquakes. It could indicate another eruption, but nothing imminent.

"So we don't whether it's years, decades or sometime in the future," Frenzen said.

Frenzen said with the help of new spider sensors and other technology, scientist believe they'll get plenty of warning should Mount St. Helens decide to erupt again.

Mount St. Helens is one of the most climbed peaks in the world, and a record number of permits - 971 - were sold to climb it on Mother's Day.

Climbing the volcano is easier than it used to be, mountaineers say. Before the eruption decapitated its peak, the mountain rose to 9,677 feet. This year's climbers were aided by the abatement of what had been a severe avalanche hazard in April, and almost ideal weekend weather.

The mountain might be the best known volcano in the state, though it's not even the most dangerous.

The U. S. Geological Survey says Mount Rainier could be the deadliest volcanoes because of its location near Tacoma and Seattle. Other volcanoes in Washington are Mount Baker in Whatcom County, Glacier Peak in Snohomish County and Mount Adams in Yakima County.

In honor of the anniversary, the monument is open free to the public Sunday. Tourists have been flocking to get an up-close look at the volcano as we remember the anniversary of the 1980 eruption.

Watch KOMO 4's TV coverage from the day of the blast: