At dawn on November 30 1985, the town of Armero, Colombia, was lost under extensive flooding, as the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted.
The volcano sent a wave of mud oozing down its slopes, resulting in flooding which killed some 25,000 people.
Lost to the world
The saddest element of this tragedy was the lack of communication linking Armero with Bogotá and the rest of Colombia. The tragedy was in fact discovered when a fumigation plane flew over the area a little after 6 a.m. During 1980s Colombia, with only three national channels broadcasting television news, Armero is a tragedy which occurred before the digital age, leaving survivors stranded for hours before the first help arrived.
The eruption is considered the second most deadly volcanic eruption of the 20th century, and ironically went unnoticed by the towns’ residents, with heavy rains shielding the volcanic activity, El Heraldo reports.
According to survivors, ash began to fall at 4.p.m. with local authorities advising the towns’ residents to seek shelter at home.
By 9.pm. Armero was cut off from the world, with the electricity service down. The town was hit by the first wave of cold water from the nearby Lagunillas river soon after, prior to a second wave hitting the town at 11.35p.m., with mudflow and debris killing most of the towns’ residents.
“Every November 13 I come here to pray for my relatives who were killed, 38 of them,” Michael Andrés Vargas born some 15 years after the disaster explains. Armero is where his grandfather had a house.
“They (people) have told me about how marvellous Armero was, it was the capital of the region. That’s why I don’t forget them.” he adds.
In fact Armero it seems was the site of a ticking time bomb. Major eruptions in 1595 and 1845 had also left high death tolls across the region. Furthermore, the Lagunillas river had been highlighted as a potential risk by local geologists, sadly ignored by Colombian government before it was too late.
Retired Colombian Army Colonel Andres Diaz Uribe is a living testimony of the Armero tragedy, leaving the town some three years prior to the disaster to enrol in military college.
He lost his parents and 27 relatives. Their bodies were never found.
“It was a lot of confusion for me. The only thing going through my mind was to reach Armero and see what was happening,” Diaz said.
He spent a total of seven days at the site rescuing some 5,000 people.
As extreme weather and natural disasters appear to be on the up across Latin America, Armero serves as a stark reminder of how lack of planning and resources can prove fatal to remote, rural communities.
While Colombia remembers 30 years since the tragedy struck, the disaster will hopefully serve as a reminder so that a tragedy of this scale need not occur again.
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