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Omayra Sanchez

Omaira Sanchez was a 13-year old victim of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano which erupted on November 13, 1985 in Armero, Colombia, causing massive lahars which killed nearly 25,000. She was trapped for 3 days in water, concrete, and other debris before she died.

Her image was taken by photojournalist Frank Fournier shortly before she died. The image caused controversy due to the photographer's work and the Colombian government's inaction in working to prevent the Armero tragedy despite the forewarning that had been available, when it was published worldwide after the young girl's death.


Omayra Sanchez was 13 years old at the time and lived with her parents, her brother and an uncle. However, prior to the tragedy, her mother had traveled to Bogota on business. The night of the disaster, she and her family had awakened and heard the sound of a lahar approaching in their direction. In the process of evacuating to a nearby mount, Omaira's grandmother fell into a water aqueduct hole, and Omayra herself stopped with the intent to rescue her trapped sibling, when the flow reached them. Omayra got trapped under her own home's concrete and debris and could not escape. When rescue teams tried to help her, they realized that her legs were trapped.


Omaira was trapped up to her neck in water, concrete, and other debris for three days before she succumbed to gangrene and hypothermia. During three nights of agony, Omaira seemed strong but was suffering. According to Cristina Echandia, a journalist who kept records of the events, Omaira sang and had normal conversations with the people who were trying to help her. The little girl was thirsty and scared. On the third night, Omaira 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.

Television coverage of the disaster introduced her to the world when she was still alive. The photo shown here was taken hours before her death and published after her death.

Criticism of the government

The Armero catastrophe came shortly after the M-19 guerrilla group's raid and subsequent Palace of Justice siege on November 6, worsening an already chaotic situation. After her death, some blamed the Colombian government's inaction and indifference to warning signs prior to the volcano's eruption for Omayra's death and the Armero tragedy.


The volcano Nevado del Ruiz is still active, according to the Volcano Watch Center in Colombia. However, at this point no other city or town remains close enough to be seriously affected in the event of an eruption. The only city, Armero, no longer exists and was turned into a memorial of the disaster where only crosses can be seen. A small "mausoleum" exists in Omayra's memory [*]

Omaira Sanchez herself remains in the memory of those who followed her suffering and death. Some local newspapers commemorated both the 20 years of the volcanic eruption as well as Omaira's death, and her case was also mentioned in TV and radio commemorations.

Isabel Allende's "And of Clay Are We Created" is based on these events.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Omayra Sanchez

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