Mount Saint Helens, a volcano in the Cascade Range of southwestern Washington that had been dormant since 1857, began to show signs of renewed activity in early 1980. On 18 May 1980, it erupted with such violence that the top of the mountain was blown off, spewing a cloud of ash and gases that rose to an altitude of 19 kilometers. The blast killed about 60 people and destroyed all life in an area of some 180 square kilometers (some 70 square miles), while a much larger area was covered with ash and debris. It continues to spit forth ash and steam intermittently. As a result of the eruption, the mountain's elevation decreased from 2,950 meters to 2,549 meters.

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