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Life After Mount St. Helens Took My Husband

Fay Blackburn of Vancouver, Washington, remembers what it was like when the world turned its attention to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Blackburn worked at The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver at the time. Her husband, Reid Blackburn, worked there too, as a staff photographer. He was camping on the mountain taking photos the day it erupted.

But Fay Blackburn told KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel that she wasn't worried.

“I knew Reid was a cautious fellow,” she said.

“I didn’t doubt my management team at The Columbian. They would never put him in a risky situation where they thought death would be a result."

“The scientists themselves never expected a lateral blast. I don’t think it could be foreseen by anyone.”

At 8:32 a.m., May 18, 1980, the northern flank of the mountain collapsed in the largest terrestrial landslide in recorded history. The resulting lateral blast blew down 230 square miles of forest, and within minutes an ash cloud rose 80,000 feet high.

There was no response to attempts to reach Reid Blackburn by radio. Later in the day, a helicopter made a rescue attempt but couldn’t get into the area.

“As soon as that was realized, we all knew that Reid could not have survived it,” she said, breaking into tears.

“Thirty-five years … it can come to the surface and just wash over me at times.”

The deadly blast had engulfed his car and killed him.

Fay Blackburn still works at The Columbian -- but not on the anniversary of the blast.

"Most of the funk of the whole event comes to me in the prior weeks to the anniversary, thinking about it, anticipating how I'm going to feel on that day," she said. 

"So by the time the day comes, I can handle it."

Related: A photography scholarship in Reid Blackburn's honor.

This story was originally published on May 18, 2015.