Screams and dismembered corpses among the thousands of dead and his town buried in the mud. Survivor William Suarez remembers the horror of the 1985 Colombian eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, but dismisses recent warnings from authorities against a repeat.
“I just don’t believe it,” a threat warning, recently quipped the 73-year-old with the gray mustache when asked about the inherent danger of another eruption.
Like him, many of the 57,000 residents who live in the danger zone surrounding the Andean volcano refuse to evacuate despite the government’s request and the Orange Warning, which has been in place since March.
That’s when the seismic tremors recorded inside the crater rose from 50 a day to 12,000.
However, Suarez stubbornly believes that the over 5,300-meter (17,400-foot) behemoth his elders call the “Sleeping Lion” — which lies within the Pacific Ring of Fire containing many of the world’s most active volcanoes — will never erupt again. For “about 50 years” or so.
Authorities fear that the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano will cause the kind of devastation that devastated the region in 1985.
Within hours, the pyroclastic expulsion melted part of the volcano’s ice cap, causing raging torrents of mud, ash, and rock that poured down the mountainside and buried the city of Armero. About 25,000 people were killed in the worst natural disaster in the country’s modern history.
However, practical matters weigh heavily on the choices facing farmers, who must decide whether to stay put and tend to their crops and pack animals, or heed the call to evacuate and give up their livelihoods.
Suarez is a farmer from Viejo Rio Claro, a riverside village nestled among the mountains and belonging to the town of Villamaría, one of the areas declared to be at high risk.
Nearly four decades later, he remembers when the volcano began to come alive with disastrous consequences.
“At the top you could see the flames belching, like the color of bricks, and the earth was shaking,” Suarez told AFP on the night of November 13. “People started screaming and running on the road.”
“There were severed hands and arms, half-corpses and decapitated heads,” he said, standing next to the church, which remained intact the next day.
Over the past several days, in Villamaría and the neighboring city of Manizales, many have noticed an unusual foul odor.
According to the Geological Service (SGC), this could be due to the dispersion of a high concentration of sulfur dioxide, along with “ash components” and moisture.
From Manizales, thick clouds can be seen around the snow-capped mountain, which according to Castano concentrate gases, water vapor and ash from the crater.
The High Council of State has warned that settlements on river banks near the volcano suffer from a high risk of potential flows of sediment, mud and volcanic debris.
However, locals in Viejo Rio Claro feel prepared in case of an emergency.
Jose Jaramillo, 71, said he relies on the training he received as a first responder and firefighter in the event of an eruption.
“(We’re) anxious for the event to happen so that we can end this anxiety…and apply everything we’ve learned,” says Jaramillo, who arrived in town after the 1985 eruption.
Félix Giraldo, head of risk management for the region, estimates that in the rural areas of Villamaria, about 1,200 families are at risk of a new outbreak.
While tensions may have eased in the weeks since the government issued its Orange Warning, Giraldo insists the threat is still real.
“We cannot let our guard down,” he said.
© 2023 AFP
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