Omayra Sánchez: A brave Colombian girl trapped in volcanic mudflow of the Armero Tragedy

Omayra Sánchez: A brave Colombian girl trapped in volcanic mudflow of the Armero Tragedy 1

Omayra Sánchez Garzón, a 13-year-old Colombian girl, who was peacefully living with her small family at the town of Armero in Tolima. But she never thought that the dark time was surrounding them beneath a silence of nature, and soon it would swallow their whole territory, making it one of the deadliest disasters in human history.

The Armero Tragedy

Nevado del Ruiz Volcano/Wikipedia

On November 13, 1985, a small eruption of Nevado del Ruiz volcano which is situated close to the Armero territory, produced an enormous lahar (mudflows of volcanic ash mixed with water) of volcanic debris mixed with ice that interred and destroyed the entire town of Armero and 13 other villages in Tolima, causing an estimated 25,000 deaths. This tragic sequel becomes known as the Armero Tragedy — the deadliest lahar in recorded history.

The fate of Omayra Sánchez

Prior to the eruption, Sánchez was at home with her father Álvaro Enrique who was a rice and sorghum collector, brother Álvaro Enrique and aunt María Adela Garzón, and her mother María Aleida had travelled to Bogotá on business.

At the disaster-night, when the sound of an approaching lahar was first to be heard, Sánchez and her family were awake, worrying about the imminent ashfall from the eruption. But in reality, the lahar was more horrifying and extensively large beyond their imagination which hit their house shortly, as the result, Sánchez becomes trapped under the chunks of concrete and other debris that had come with the lahar and she could not free herself.

The utmost effort to rescue Omayra Sánchez trapped in volcanic mudflow

The next few hours she was covered with the concrete and mud but she, however, gets her hand through a crack in the debris. When rescue teams had come and a rescuer noticed her hand protruding from a pile of debris and tried to help her, they realized that her legs were completely trapped under a large part of her house’s roof.

Although, various sources have given various statements as to the degree to which Omayra Sánchez was trapped. Some say that Sánchez was “trapped up to her neck”, while Germán Santa Maria Barragan, a journalist who was working as a volunteer in the Armero tragedy said that Omayra Sánchez was trapped up to her waist.

Frank Fournier’s iconic photograph of Omayra Sánchez

Sánchez was stuck and immovable from the waist down, but her upper body was partially free of the concrete and other debris. The rescuers cleared tiles and wood around her body as much as possible over the course of a day.

Once she was freed from the waist up, the rescuers attempted to pull her out but found it impossible to do so without breaking her legs in the process.

Each time a person was pulling her, the water level was also rising around her, so that it seemed she would drown if they would continue to do it, so the rescue workers had helplessly placed a tire around her body to keep her afloat.

Later, the divers found that Sánchez’s legs were caught under a door made of bricks, with her aunt’s arms clutching tightly around her legs and feet.

Omayra Sánchez, the brave Colombian girl

Despite her predicament, Sánchez remained relatively positive as she sang to journalist Barragán, asked for sweet food, drank soda, and even agreed to be interviewed. At times, she was scared and prayed or cried. On the third night, she began to hallucinate, saying, “I don’t want to be late for school” and mentioned a math exam.

Why was it impossible to rescue Omayra Sánchez?

Near the end of her life, Sánchez’s eyes became reddened, the face was swelled, and her hands turned white. Even, at a time she asked the people to leave her so they could take a rest.

Hours later the rescuers 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.

omayra sanchez trapped
Omayra Sanchez Trapped/YouTube

Lacking sufficient surgical equipment to save her from the effects of an amputation, the helpless medics decided to let her die as it would be more humane.

In all, Sánchez had spent nearly three unbearable nights (more than 60 hours) before she died at around 10:05 AM on 16th November, from exposure, most likely from gangrene and hypothermia.

The last words of Omayra Sánchez

In the final moment, Omayra Sánchez appears in a footage saying,

“Mom, if you are listening, and I guess you are, pray for me so that I may walk and be saved, and that these people help me. Mommy, I love you and dad and my brother, good bye mother.”

Omayra Sánchez in the social culture

The courage and dignity of Omayra Sánchez touched millions of hearts around the world, and a photograph of Sánchez, taken by the photojournalist Frank Fournier shortly before she died, was internationally published in various news outlets. It was later designated as the “World Press Photo Of The Year For 1986.”

Today, Omayra Sánchez has remained an unforgettable positive-figure in the popular culture who is borne in mind through the music, literature and various commemorative articles, and her grave has become a place of pilgrimage. You could find her grave memorial here.

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