Do you remember the Armero tragedy in Colombia? The natural disaster which occurred in November 1985, which is still shaking us. Not only because of the destruction, but also because of the loss of human lives. The most well-known story connected to the tragedy was that of a Colombian girl trapped in volcanic mudflow. Let’s hear her story.
What happened in the Armero tragedy in Colombia?
The Armero tragedy in Colombia occurred on Wednesday, September 13, 1985. Due to the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the departments of Caldas and Tolima were affected. Days before, the government had received notifications from specialists about signs of volcanic activity.
However, they did not arrive in time. The town of Armero, located less than 50 kilometers from the volcano, was hit by lava. As a result, more than 20,000 of its 29,000 inhabitants lost their lives. In other words, almost 70 percent of the population died. The rest lost their belongings or were seriously injured.
Other towns were also affected. If we count the municipalities of Chinchiná and Villamaría, the death toll rises to more than 23,000. The problem was not only the eruption of the volcano, but also the difficulty of the rescues. Due to the mud, people were trapped.
Many victims were photographed live amid the tragedy. Among them, the girl who is the protagonist of this story: Omayra Sanchez (Mena, 2014).
Omayra Sanchez: the Colombian girl trapped in volcanic mudflow
This story is not that of a Colombian woman, but rather a girl. Omayra Sanchez was one of the victims of the volcanic eruption. She became famous in 1985 for her incredible story. Television cameras filmed her last hours of life. This happened while she was trapped in the mud and the remains of her destroyed home.
When the lava demolished her house, she was trapped under the rubble, while her aunt, now deceased, pulled her up. Journalists and rescuers noticed the enormous effort she was making to try to get out of the situation, but to no avail.
Rescuers noticed that her legs were trapped in a door made of bricks. The girl trappedwas kept afloat by a tire, because when they tried to move her, she was in danger of drowning. Although they tried to remove the wood and tiles, it was impossible to get her out. The only option was to break her legs.
There was one more option which was to use a motor pump to suck up the water and lower level around her what was submerged. However, the only one available was in Medellín, far from the site. The state did not take charge of the situation either. After 60 hours of struggle, she died, probably from hypothermia (Ospina, 2013).
The popularity of this tragedy
A photograph of the Omayra, taken by journalist Frank Fournier, went viral. It became the World Press Photo of 1986. That image became a symbol of political inoperativeness in different circumstances. It shows, precisely, the contrast between the effort of the volunteers and the lack of specialized equipment provided by the state.
Currently, the site where she died bears the name of the Armando Armero Foundation. It is part of the Centro de Interpretación de la Memoria y la Tragedia de Armero. Popularly known as CIMTA, it seeks to remember the disaster that occurred there in November 1985 (Zea, 2016). The life story of this girl is a sobering one. The tragedy of Armero, which resulted in the death of Omayra Sanchez, should serve as a reminder of how important natural disaster prevention is. Not only this but also about how important it is to react in time, and in the most efficient way, when they occur.
Mena, S. (2014). Humanismo y desastres naturales: el caso de Omaira Sánchez y la erupción del Nevado del Ruiz. Universidad CEU. http://www.revistalatinacs.org/14SLCS/2014_actas/039_Mena.pdf
Ospina, A. (2013). El sacrilegio sagrado: narrativa, muerte y ritual en las tragedias de Armero. Revista Colombiana de Antropología. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313686257_El_sacrilegio_sagrado_narrativa_muerte_y_ritual_en_las_tragedias_de_Armero
Zea, V. (2016). Omayra Sánchez: Símbolo y santo popular de la tragedia de Armero, Tolima. Universidad Externado de Colombia. https://1library.co/document/q7wdn8oz-omayra-sanchez-simbolo-santo-popular-tragedia-armero-tolima.html