1980 Year in Review

1980 Disasters

Published: 1980
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI
Mount St. Helens emits a plume of steam and ash from an area of new crevasses in the crater glacier south of the 1980-86 lava dome on October 1, 2004. The event lasted approximately 25 minutes and created a pale-gray cloud that reached an altitude of almost 10000 ft. The image was taken at an altitude of 27,000 ft aboard a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion aircraft. (UPI Photo/Scott Taylor/U.S. Navy)

Nick Charles: On November 23, 1980 a massive earthquake struck southern Italy. Buildings and homes crumbled to the ground. More than 3,000 people were killed and nearly 2,000 more were missing and feared dead. It was the worst earthquake to hit Europe in 65 years.

An earthquake also rocked Algeria October 11, killing between 5,000 and 25,000 people leaving 250,000 homeless. Even as relief aid came pouring in a week later, three more tremors shook north-western Algeria raising the overall death toll to at least 6,000.

In the Unites States, Mount St. Helens which had been dormant for a century came to life in May, erupting with an explosion that could be felt 100 miles away. Correspondent Gene Gibbons was in Kruger, Washington at the time only eight miles away.

Gene Gibbons: Sunday, May 18, it was 08:39 in the morning. Suddenly and without warning Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in the pacific cascade range literally exploded. I was near the volcano in the southern base when the blast occurred and got a bird's eye view of it later from an airplane.

We are flying toward Mount St. Helens at this moment. We are about 25 miles from the summit and from the front-seat of this light plane. I can see the huge pillar of smoke rising from the cone of the mountain. The mountain itself is black covered with ash. The smoke is a dirty gray, very thick smoke and the mountain is enshrouded in the smoke and what look like clouds.”


Gene Gibbons: The blast killed scores of people and devastated a wide area and flying volcanic ash became a problem for several states. This is Gene Gibbons reporting.

Nick Charles: Tragedy also struck in Las Vegas in November of 1980. A major fire at a major hotel known as the MGM Grand. Bob Fuss reports nearly 100 people lost their lives in that tragic fire.

Bob Fuss: The fire in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas began in an attic and never got above the second floor, but when it moved into the casino, it became a fireball and swept through the gambling den producing deadly poisonous smoke. With 2,000 rooms, almost all of them full, there were more than 4,000 guests in the hotel and almost as many employees. More than a thousand were rescued off the roof by helicopters, 84 died, hundreds were injured. No fire alarm sounded. Many died when they became trapped in smoke-filled stairways. Fanton Alan of San José was briefly trapped in one of them.

Speaker: And it was getting warmer and more-and-more smoke getting into your lungs and I knew I only had about five minutes to go. So finally, I hit about the third –- second and third floor and somebody opened up a door from the inside and luckily, we got out through that way, but if nobody had opened up that door, we would have all suffocated.

Bob Fuss: Fire officials say sprinklers or smoke alarms would have prevented the tragedy. They were not legally required, but had been recommended. The hotel plans to reopen in July. Bob Fuss reporting.

Nick Charles: The people of Texas will long remember 1980 as the year they had to endure a heat wave that continued throughout most of the summer. On June 29, the mercury bubbled up to 112 degrees in Wichita Falls, Texas, breaking 56 year old record.

By June 30, at least 59 deaths were attributed to the heat wave. So the temperature climbed above the 100 degree mark day after day after day.