A Girl that Got Trapped Beneath a Volcanic Mudflow in 1985

May 07, 2019 By Kayode Oseh

On November 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted. Pyroclastic flows exploding from the crater melted the mountain’s icecap, forming lahars (volcanic mudflows and debris flows) which cascaded into river valleys below. One lahar, consisting of three pulses, did most of the damage. Traveling at 6 meters (20 ft) per second, the first pulse enveloped most of the town of Armero, killing up to 20,000 people; the two later pulses weakened buildings. Another lahar killed 1,800 people in nearby Chinchiná. In total 23,000 people were killed and 13 villages in addition to Armero were destroyed.

Omayra Sánchez was a little 13 year old girl who lived in Armero when the “Nevado del Ruíz” erupted. When the lahar destroyed her house, her father and aunt died inside. She was able to survive the lahar, but when rescue teams tried to help her, they realized that her legs were trapped under her house’s roof. Once the girl was freed from the waist up, her rescuers attempted to pull her out, but found the task impossible without breaking her legs in the process. Rescue workers placed a tire around her body to avoid her to drown. Divers discovered that Sánchez’s legs were caught under a door made of bricks, with her aunt’s body under her feet.

Despite her predicament, Sánchez remained relatively positive: she sang to Germán Santa María Barragán, a journalist who was working as a volunteer, asked for sweet food, drank soda, and agreed to be interviewed. At times, she was scared, and prayed or cried. On the third night, Sánchez began hallucinating, saying that she did not want to be late for school, and mentioned a math exam. Near the end of her life, Sánchez’s eyes reddened, her face swelled, and her hands whitened.

At one point she asked the people to leave her so they could rest. Hours later the workers returned with a pump and tried to save her, but her legs were bent under the concrete as if she was kneeling, and it was impossible to free her without severing her legs. Lacking the surgical equipment to save her from the effects of an amputation, the doctors present agreed that it would be more humane to let her die. In all, Sánchez suffered for nearly three nights (roughly 60 hours) before she died at approximately 10:05 AM on November 16 from exposure, most likely from gangrene or hypothermia.

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