The Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia has been threatening to erupt for several weeks. The previous eruption, in 1985, claimed 25,000 lives, largely because geologists ignored warnings. Survivors of the tragedy hope that the government will take action to better protect people this time. However, not all residents want to evacuate. They are afraid of looting.
The Colombian Geological Survey (SGC) has recorded a significant increase in seismic activity at the Nevado del Ruiz volcano since March, and Puffs of steam come out of the crater regularly. Orange – the second highest – level of alert for the eruption was declared in the cone area. This means that the volcano could erupt in the coming days or weeks.
The city has disappeared from the map
The fear of the Nevado del Ruiz eruption is all the greater because the previous eruption on November 13, 1985 ended in great tragedy. Hot pyroclastic material spewing from the crater melted the volcano’s ice cap, creating a heavy mass of hot volcanic ash and rock. A wave of mud rolled down the sides of the cone, burying the city of Armero at the foot of the volcano. About 25,000 people died under the rubble of houses and masses of mud. Armero was never rebuilt – only ruins remained of the city.
“We see that a lot of preparation is needed,” said Francisco Gonzalez, director of the foundation that helped the orphans of Armero. – In this case, there can be no more such losses, so many thefts, illegal adoptions of children that 37 years ago were distributed like at a fair.
The tragedy in Armero resulted in large part from ignoring the warnings issued by geologists. In the weeks before the volcanic eruption, there was increased seismic activity in the area. Initially, the indications were taken seriously, but after several “false alarms”, local authorities stopped paying attention to the appeals and convinced residents that they were not in any danger. People who survived the catastrophe remember this.
“This is an important mirror for the government, which should take other preventive measures than the current ones,” Libanier Morales, one of the survivors, told Reuters.
“Our lives are worth more than animals”
Despite the threat of an eruption, some residents, including families who survived the volcano’s devastating 1985 eruption, refused to evacuate. People fear that when they leave their homes, their belongings will be stolen.
“Our lives are worth more than animals and things, but we are poor people,” a resident of an eruption-prone region told Reuters. “It’s not fair that we have to leave here and leave our things.” If the government would help us, it would be easier, but we just can’t lose everything.
The announcement of an orange alert in the area also hit the region’s economy. Unemployment has risen sharply since March after companies suspended operations during the emergency, and tourism has fallen drastically.
“People are afraid to come,” said James Buitrago, a restaurant owner in Murillo, near Nevado del Ruiz. – We were waiting for Easter, which is a good season, but we had a lot of losses because everything was closed.
According to the Colombian crisis management agency, 57,000 people live in the area at risk of eruption.
Reuters, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Main photo source: Reuters