Omayra Sanchez

Omayra Sanchez

In 1985, a Colombian girl was trapped by a volcanic mudflow. Knowing she would die, volunteers and rescuers did their best to comfort her until she passed away.

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In November 1985, the small town of Armero, Colombia was inundated by a massive mudslide brought on by the eruption of a nearby volcano. Thirteen-year-old Omayra Sánchez was buried in a giant vat of debris and neck-deep water. Rescue efforts were futile and, after three days trapped up to her waist in mud, the Colombian teenager died.

On Nov. 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz erupted. It was a small explosion, melting between five and 10 percent of the ice cap that covered the Arenas Crater, but it was enough to trigger a devastating lahar or mudflow.

Running at a speed of roughly 25 mph, the mudflow reached Armero and covered 85 percent of the city in thick, heavy sludge. The city’s roadways, houses, and bridges were destroyed, engulfed by mudflows up to a mile wide.

The flood also trapped residents trying to flee, many of them unable to escape the sheer force of the mud that burst into their small town. While some were lucky enough only to suffer injuries, most of the town’s people perished. As many as 25,000 people died. Only a fifth of Armero’s population survived.

Despite the incredible devastation, it would take hours before initial rescue efforts began. This left many — like Omayra Sánchez — to endure long, terrifying deaths trapped beneath the mud.

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