May 14th, 2007

ani, glitter

He Remembers the Year the Mountain Blew (1980)

In May of 1980, Mt. St. Helens put on a show by blowing her top and casting ash far and wide. The first time this ash went to the northwest, into the Yakima Valley area. Then over Memorial Day weekend, a light dusting greeted the Portland area in a gentle southwest drift.

Bob Nordlander (then Director of Engineering for the Port of Portland) was the Portland Rose Festival Association President at the time, and he was a very busy person, dealing with the aftermath of the initial Mt. St. Helens eruption that flooded Southwest Washington rivers and dumped silt and debris into the Columbia River -- nearly blocking the river and stopping all river traffic. This was a major crisis for the Port of Portland.

Nordlander would wear his 'Port' hat one day and the next he'd be worried about whether the United States and Canadian navies and U.S. Coast Guard would be able to make their annual visits to Rose Festival as the association president.

In those days the ships were numerous and big, requiring ample river conditions. A special dredging operation soon cleared a narrow pathway that enabled river traffic to move -- if on a limited basis. This allowed Port business to resume and the navy visit to Portland to remain on schedule. But these were minimal issues for what was to come next!

On Thursday night of Rose Festival week, Mt. St. Helens provided a major blow. This time ash rained on Portland in very significant measure. The Festival Center was closed early as warnings of the advancing ash flow were received. The Navy CIB Office in the Riverside Hotel must have seemed to many to be a match for a major naval operations center. Normally, U.S. and Canadian navy and Coast Guard admirals graced the Festival fleet visit. But in 1980 a young Commodore (awaiting promotion to Admiral) was the senior U.S. officer in Portland. With a full fleet tied up to the Seawall and a skeleton crew still on board while others had shore duty, the Commodore had thoughts of making a run for the lower Columbia. He wanted to escape being landlocked in Portland by another blockage of the river, which was easier said than done when finding yourself with 20 ships, no Captains and crew -- and no river pilots!

The ash it did fall... just like a good old fashion snow storm. It covered everything in sight, including the Festival's seawall visitors, Festival Center carnival and tents and the City in general. A good dose of rain accompanied the ash. Early Friday morning the navy ships broke out their fire fighting equipment and washed everything down to clean away ash. When finished cleaning the ships, the navy moved its fire-fighting hoses across the seawall into Waterfront Park, where they cleaned all of the carnival rides and exhibit tent tops.

There was no question the Festival Center grounds -- suffering under heavy rain plus the water used to clear away the ash -- were left in a very wet condition. But the Festival Center opened on schedule and the navy ships hosted visitors as planned that afternoon.

Only one Festival event was forced to change course on Friday. The Royal Rosarian Knighting Ceremony was moved from Washington Park to the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel. There was concern about the Festival of Bands show scheduled for Friday evening, when ash plugged the drains of the Civic Stadium (now PGE Park) and water was standing six to eight inches deep in most areas of the field. But the Park Bureau staff cleared the drain lines and the show rehearsal went on as planned, if somewhat late -- and the actual show opened on schedule that evening.

The rains tapered off Friday and the weather cleared. But that was the start of what would be the major Rose Festival problem of the year. The dust from the ash (when it dried) drifted through the air, causing health and operational problems for everyone in the area. Portland Mayor Connie McCredie came to the rescue, ordering the Portland Fire Bureau into action. They washed down streets in and around Portland hospitals -- followed by the city's major thoroughfares -- in an effort to minimize the floating ash. When finished with these first two priorities, the Mayor moved the PFD cleaning crew to Memorial Coliseum parking area where the Grand Floral Parade was to form and start -- and then down the remainder of the parade route into the disband area near Lincoln High School.

Saturday had blue sky, white clouds and a clean Grand Floral Parade route! The parade finished with no time to spare as the last few units in the line of march stirred up a bit of the dry ash that had escaped the PFD clean-up detail. The Rose Festival and Portland made the national evening television news when CBS featured the Budweiser Clydesdales prancing down Broadway, trailed by a light dusting of ash as part of the coverage of "yet another Mt. St. Helens eruption."

There's no question that without the help of the U.S. Navy and Portland Fire Bureau's ash cleanup crews -- Mayor McCredie's order "the parade must go on" and PRFA President Nordlander's role with the Port of Portland -- the 1980 Portland Rose Festival would have been even more prominent as being short lived.

Clayton Hannon

[Note: Clayton is former Executive Director of the Portland Rose Festival Association]

~Clayton Hannon (Gleneden Beach, Oregon)