It's Party Time After Mount St. Helens Erupts

When Carol Hubbell heard about the mini-eruption of Mount St. Helens (search) on a scanner in the Cougar Store, she ran into the parking lot to watch the plume of steam and ash waft over the mountain 12 miles to the north.

Then she hustled back inside; it would be a busy afternoon of selling ice, snacks and beer.

The logging community of Cougar is the closest town to the erupting crater of Mount St. Helens. The residents were celebrating the burst of steam that emanated from the mountain around noon Friday, anticipating a heavy tourist influx over the weekend.

Volcano Cam

"Unless it keeps blowing and gets a little more intense, I think it's really exciting," Hubbell said.

"My kids are all in school; they're going to be really disappointed they weren't here when it blew."

The eruption sent a cloud of steam and ash up to 10,000 feet, but it was nothing like the devastating 1980 blast. Though the force of that eruption went in another direction, Cougar was evacuated and got nine inches of volcanic ash.

In the quarter century since, the town, like most logging communities in the Northwest, has suffered through a decline in the timber industry. Its roughly 200 residents mostly scrape by on tourism, with hunting and hiking in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter.

Hubbell said the volcano visitors could provide a lift for the economy, and compensate for the loss of revenue from hikers, who were barred from the mountain because of the warnings of an imminent eruption.

A steady stream of cars and motorcycles passed through Cougar on Friday, headed to an overlook a few miles from the crater.

Forest Service officers blocked the road to the closest viewpoint, but allowed sightseers to watch from several spots lower down the mountain.

"A lot of people had video cameras," said Dennis DoSantos, who rode his motorcycle from Portland, Ore., to see an eruption.

Other volcano watchers were disappointed with the puff of steam that quickly dissipated.

"It wasn't big enough," said Joe Powers, who drove to the mountain from Seattle.

Residents of Cougar scoffed at the danger of living next to an active volcano. Retired logger Ron Jackman bought a 12-pack of beer as he prepared to take a trip to a ridge in his all-terrain vehicle, hoping to see another eruption.

"You survive the blow?" Jackman jokingly asked his friend, Mike Mathews, who was in line at the Cougar Store.

"Yes I did," Mathews replied. "We got lava up to the back of the barn, but other than that, everything's fine."