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Omayra Sánchez

    Meril Jeffery John.J
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    By Meril Jeffery John.J
    Omayra Sánchez

    Omayra Sánchez was a 13-year-old victim of the 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which erupted on November 13, 1985, in Armero, Colombia causing massive lahars which killed nearly 25,000. Trapped for three days in water, concrete, and other debris before she died, Omayra captured the attention of the media as volunteer workers told of a girl they were unable to save. 

    Videos of her communicating with workers, smiling and making gestures to video cameras circulated around the media. Her "courage and dignity" touched Frank Fournier and many other relief workers who gathered around her to pray and be with her. After 60 hours of struggling, she died. Her death highlighted the failure of officials to respond promptly to the threat of the volcano and also the struggle for volunteer rescue workers to save trapped victims who would otherwise be quickly saved and treated. Sánchez became famous for a photograph of her taken shortly before she died by photojournalist Frank Fournier. 

    When published worldwide after the young girl's death, the image caused controversy because of the photographer's decision to take it and the Colombian government's inaction in not working to prevent the Armero tragedy despite the forewarning that had been available.

    Omayra was trapped up to her neck in water and the debris of her home for nearly 60 hours before she died, either of exposure, gangrene, or hypothermia. Omayra suffered through nearly 3 nights of agony before she died in a state of confusion. During this time, she sang to Germán Santamaría and agreed to be interviewed. The teenage girl was scared, and often prayed or cried. On the third night, Omayra began hallucinating, saying that she did not want to be late for school. At some point she asked the people to leave her so they could rest.

    After 60 hours of exposure, Omayra died. Two hours before her death a broken pump arrived, and just four hours after, a regional town received 18 pumps. Both her brother, Alvaro Enrique, and mother, Maria Aleida, survived the lahars, but her father also died. Omayra's mother commented, "I will live for my son, who only lost a finger." She expressed her feelings about Omayra's death. "It is horrible, but we have to think about the living."

    As the public became aware of Omayra's situation through the media, her eventual death came to symbolize the tragic nature of the Armero disaster and highlight the failure of officials to properly account for victims who could have been saved. Controversy broke out when officials indicated that they had used the best of their supplies, and descriptions of the shortages were released. Volunteer relief workers said that even basic supplies ran out, such as shovels, cutting tools, and stretchers, agreeing that there were not enough resources. Elaborating, they added that the rescue process was impeded by large crowds and senseless attention to organization. One police officer (unnamed) opined that the government should have depended on human resources to alleviate the problems and that the system of rescue was disorganized. Colombia's Minister of Defense, Miguel Uribe, admitted that he "understood criticism of the rescue effort", but directed it towards the fact that Colombia was "an undeveloped country" that didn't "have that kind of equipment."

     

    Meril Jeffery John.J

    Meril Jeffery John.J

    If This is God's Will then no man can Fight it

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