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'This wasn’t exciting, this was devastating': Family remembers losing lodge in Mount St. Helens eruption

The family who owned the popular Spirit Lake Lodge will never forget the moment they realized the lodge was gone.

SKAMANIA COUNTY, Wash. — If you’re old enough, you probably remember exactly where you were on the morning of May 18, 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted.

The family who owned the popular Spirit Lake Lodge say they’ll never forget where they were on that day or where they were when they found out the lodge was gone.

For years, Spirit Lake Lodge was a place where families would go to get away. Mark Smith’s family ran the lodge for nearly 10 years and he remembers what life was like leading up to the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

“At first, everyone was really excited when the mountain looked like it was coming back to life but we didn’t know what to expect,” says Smith.

Credit: Smith Family
Mount St. Helens from Spirit Lake Lodge

He said just a week before the eruption, he was told by local law enforcement agencies that they should be able to go back to normal by September.

Mark and his brother, who managed the lodge, were able to go back on May 17 to check on the property. Little did they know that would be the last time they would be there. He still remembers having breakfast on the morning of May 18.

He saw the ash plume rising high into the sky. Smith says he still remembers everything from that morning, especially right after the mountain erupted.

Watch: 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, KGW Archives

“There were blue lightning bolts cracking through the sky and it was just unbelievable and I was 20 years old and the first thing I did was drive closer to the mountain," said Smith.

He drove backroads to try to get a closer look at the damage and saw how quickly the melting snow and ice started to swallow up trees. 

“As we were standing there, you could hear the snapping and the cracking of the trees,” said Smith. After spending part of that morning driving around, he remembers walking into his parents’ house, which was east of the mountain, and that’s when things really hit him. He said his parents were watching the television and news coverage of the eruption, and that’s when he realized family’s lodge was gone, buried under 500 feet of rock, ash and debris.

Credit: Smith family
Spirit Lake Lodge

“We watched and saw nothing but gray and steaming and you couldn’t even tell where they were at," Smith said. "That’s when we realized this wasn’t exciting, this was devastating."

Nearly 60 lives were lost that day, including Harry Truman who ran Mount St. Helens Lodge and refused to leave the mountain. Smith and his family had grown close to Truman and were the last people to see him alive.

Smith says he didn’t think Truman felt too afraid of the mountain erupting. He had told Smith the day before that he felt the mountain had started to calm back down.

Forty years later, Mark looks back at pictures of his family’s lodge as a reminder of how grateful he is to have left the mountain when he did.

View entire Mount St. Helens: 40th Anniversary YouTube playlist

Find more raw footage of Mount St. Helens before and after the eruption on our YouTube channel. 

RELATED: Former U.S. Forest Service worker remembers the signs, eruption of Mount St. Helens