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1980s: The Decade of Disaster 

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary disaster is defined as “a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction.” The decade of the 1980s was marked by fear and horror consuming society due to the multiple disasters that happened during this period of time. In the 1980s some of the disastrous events were: the failed rescue of American hostages held in Iran, Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption, the highest unemployment rate since 1940s, a terrorist bomb kills 241 United States peacekeeping troops in Lebanon, the space shuttle in Florida explode killing all seven astronauts. Added to all these was the outbreak of one of the most dangerous epidemics of all history. Two events in particular gave rise to fear and tragedy for the entire country. The eruption of Mount St. Helens was the largest volcanic eruption in the United States occurred, an event that highlighted a wave of terror that the whole country watched unfold. Also, at the beginning of the decade a sequence of medical mysteries gave rise to the HIV epidemic which unleashed unexpected and devastating consequences for the country. The 1980s can be called “The Decade of Disaster” because of multiple disasters exemplified by the eruption of Mount St. Helen and the epidemic of HIV.

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Natural disasters, such as the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in the 1980s, are punctual moments that leave their mark on the history of a country, wipe out its surroundings, and leave incalculable natural and economic damages. On the morning of May 18, 1980, a great eruption took place, devastating the southwest the state of Washington (Fairchild 1; “Mount” 1). Months before multiple events had made the population aware of the upcoming advent of the disaster. On March 16th various earthquakes shook the area before the eruption started (“Cataclysmic” 1). Thirteen days after, the first small eruption occurs, a sign that the volcano was active and would explode any day (Fairchild 2). During March and April, the volcano activity continued, until the end of April when, surprisingly, the volcanic activity decreased (“Cataclysmic” 2). When people were calmer and it was over, on the morning of May 7th, the activity came back and it was stronger than the previous months. A clue that the worst part was yet to come (“Cataclysmic”2). All these previous events terrified a population that remained in suspense not knowing when the disaster was going to come. At 8:32 a.m. on the morning of May18th an earthquake of magnitude 5 marked the beginning of the tremendous volcanic eruption (Fairchild 1). The population of Washington State passed months of fear before, during, and after the cataclysm took place showing this to be a “Decade of Disaster”.

Volcanic activity does not just last one day, it must be active for a long time before the catastrophic event happens. While the volcano is active there is always a risk of eruption due to the tectonic movement that is found below and that gives rise to several events that can end in one of the worst catastrophes, a volcanic eruption. Mount St. Helens had been active for more than 40,000 years before the catastrophe in 1980. The movement of the tectonic plates around the volcano made the magma intruded months before to the eruption (“Mount” 2; “Cataclysmic” 1). An earthquake classified a level 5 in the scale of Richter shook the area around the volcano collapsing the “bulging” of the north flank and causing it to go outwards more than 140 meters (Fairchild 1; “Cataclysmic” 2). This collapse originated the largest debris avalanche recorded until the 80s (“Cataclysmic” 3). The avalanche had a total volume of 2.5 cubic kilometres (“Cataclysmic” 4). It started in the Turtle River Valley and ended in the Spirit Lake. The lateral blast accelerated the avalanche every second, making the avalanche density and velocity increase and occasioning more damage (“Cataclysmic” 4). When it passed through the volcano superficies it took off weight from the top (Fairchild 1). Due to the radical decrease of weight on the top the pressure of the volcano released and went down the volcanic conduct (“Cataclysmic” 1). When the release of pressure reached the bottom of the volcano the magma began to rise high (“Cataclysmic” 2). The hot fluid deformed the volcano creating a large opening in one side of the volcano were the lava came out producing a Plinian eruption with a total duration of 9 hours (“Cataclysmic” 5). Is approximated that the peak of the explosion was between 3pm and 5pm (“Cataclysmic” 2). This kind of eruption is worse than a normal one because it takes place in the horizontal plane creating large size volcanic rocks and destroying all the surroundings. Because it was a Plinian eruption it lefts incalculable damage, ending in an economic, forestal and social disaster; and with a total of fifty seven deaths.

This volcano had certain characteristics that made it specially dangerous and made its eruption a great disaster that could not be stopped or prevented. Mount St. Helens was well-know for the particularity of being a snow and ice clad volcano (“Mount” 1). Due by its nature and the sediments going down the river there was a large scale of hydrologic changes (“Mount” 1). The volcanic eruption caused an enormous lateral blast cloud, its blasts and the melted snow were wrapped in mudflow (Fairchild 2). Most of the damages were not caused by the eruption itself, but by the high density blast cloud and by the lahars that were dragged down the mountain. House size block were sliding down (Fairchild 2). At the end of the day a black cloud of smoke combined with the great disaster. Fear and despair can be felt in the surroundings. Houses lifted, bridges took out, fall trees were now the landscape that had left tremendous eruption (Fairchild 3). The volcano had killed 57 people and left many others injured. The flora and fauna had been totally destroyed (Fairchild 2). This immense disaster marked the beginning of a decade highlighted by the horror, fear and desperation.

Apart from natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo and the Mount St. Helens eruption, the 1980s had disaster in coping with a new virulent disease, a major epidemic, that triggered the panic and uncertainty in the American population. At the beginning of 1980s a discovery of a new illness surprised the medical field (“AIDS” 1). Five cases of a rare illness known as Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia attacked Los Angeles (“AIDS” 1; “HIV” 1). Simultaneously new cases of an extremely aggressive cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma were discovered in New York (“AIDS” 1). These coincidence made scientists and doctors suspect about a new disease attacking the immune system. The first official patient report came out in 1981, but it was still a medical mystery (“HIV” 1). Multiple patients uncovered the mystery in 1982, it was a disease transmitted sexualy that attacked the nervous system making the cells unable to fight infectious diseases (“Timeline” 1; “AIDS” 1). That same year this disease was named AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) (“Timeline” 1). Its first cases affected the homosexual people (“AIDS” 1). The disease was associated with punishment because it first affected the homosexuals and drugs addicted (“AIDS” 2). When it seemed that the rights of homosexuals were improving, this disease came that destabilized the country causing more rejection of this sexual orientation.

The causes still an enigma fact that was panicking the society. So far was known that it was a contagious disease transmitted through sexual or blood contact. The first time that someone stated what could be the cause was in May, 1983, when scientists of the Pasteur Institute stabilised the LAV (Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus) virus as cause of AIDS (“Timeline” 2). One year after the National Cancer Institute added to this virus other agent called HTLV-III (“Timeline” 2). And finally in 1986 the Committee of Taxonomy in Viruses recalled the LAV/HTLV-III with the new name HIV that means Human Immunodeficiency Virus (“Tieline” 3). The epidemic spread so fast, disaster that caused uncertainty and anxiety among people in America. In no time it also affected heterosexual men, women and kids (“AIDS” 1). In 1985 doctors expected eighty five per cent more cases than the year before ad twice more in 1986 (“HIV” 7). The amount of mortality required finding a cure, but it was difficult due to the multiple mutations that the virus suffered between infected people (“AIDS” 2) . On March, 1987 was released the first antiretroviral drug to treat HIV called AZT (“Timeline” 3; “HIV” 8). These epidemic caused more than 100,000 deaths in America at the end of the decade; and everyone affected with this illness was rejected by the society in their jobs and schools, breaking down a country separated by the fear and the compassion.

This epidemic is considered the worst disaster in the 80s in America and also affected many more countries. San Francisco General Hospital opened the first dedicated clinic and the San Francisco Aids Foundation was set up (“HIV” 3). The worldwide importance of this disease gave rise to major events and conferences that were recorded in history being the United States recognized as one of the most important countries in the search for the cause and treatment of AIDS. On April, 1985 takes place the First International AIDS conference.Two years after the extension of the epidemic aware all he world and in October, 1987 the UNGA arrange to meet and debate about the problem (“Timeline” 3). The new National Commision on AIDS was created on USA, after the U.S. Public Health Service declared the HIV a dangerous contagious infection (“HIV” 8-9). On 1988, December first, was declared the World AIDS Day (“HIV” 10). The AIDS epidemic affected all the different countries but specially United States, leaving a devastated nation.

The decade of 1980s left a devastated and terrified unstable society due to the multiple disaster that took place during those ten years. The unexpected eruption of St. Helens and the outbreak of AIDS caused a change in state of American Citizens. Mount St. Helens eruption was remarkable by the intrigue and the terror, everyone knew it was going to happen, but underestimated the drastic consequences that it left . On the other hand, the AIDS epidemic was a surprise to everyone and no one was ready to react to the catastrophe. There is multiple types of disasters, but they all go through the same phases: the impact phase when the disaster occurs; the emergency phase, the reaction to the disaster; and the rehabilitation phase.

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1980s: The Decade of Disaster 
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary disaster is defined as “a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction.” The decade of the 1980s was marked by fear and horror consuming society due to the multiple disasters that happened during this period of time. In the 1980s some of the disastrous events were: the failed rescue of American hostages held in Iran, Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption, the highest unemployment rate since 1940s, a terrorist bomb kills 241 United S
2021-11-15 05:35:42
1980s: The Decade of Disaster 
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