Loowit - the lady of fire.

Loowit - the lady of fire.

by Hazel Gibson

Mt St Helens, in Washington State USA, is possibly one of the world's most famous volcanoes as it's eruption on May 18th 1980 was one of the first explosive volcanic eruptions to be extensively covered by the US and therefore global media. The eruption also altered volcanology as a field; as the lateral (or sideways) eruption and subsequent debris flow that devastated the area around the volcano and took the lives of 57 people, including the USGS volcanologist Dave Johnston who was observing the eruption, were almost entirely unexpected.

Of course the violent nature of the volcanoes that exist all through the Cascadia region of western Washington State is not a surprise to the native Americans who have lived in the area for generations. You only have to look to the names of the volcanoes to see that; for the Puyallup people this volcano is called Loowit, or Loowitlatkla, which means the lady of fire, and many stories exist of her restless and destructive nature (along with that of her two suitors - Mt Hood and Mt Adams).

Following the 1980 eruption a huge crater was left on the flank of the volcano as evidence of that fateful day, but even now the volcano is active: refilling the crater once again. The most recent eruptive phase (at the time of writing) ended in 2008, but the lady of fire has not relinquished her flames just yet and no doubt will start building the crater dome again soon.