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Omayra Sánchez Garzón ― The Tragic Story of a Brave Colombian Girl

A Colombian girl named Omayra Sánchez Garzón born on August 28, 1972, was peacefully living in the town of Armero in Tolima with his small family. And when Sánchez was only 13 years old, she couldn't think that a dark time was surrounding them beneath a silence of nature, and soon it would swallow their whole territory, making one of the world's deadliest macabre events.

On November 13, 1985, a small eruption of Nevado del Ruiz volcano located 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 later became known as the Armero tragedy—the deadliest lahar in recorded history.

Prior to the eruption, Sánchez was at home with her father Álvaro Enrique, a rice and sorghum collector, brother Álvaro Enrique and aunt María Adela Garzón, and her mother María Aleida had travelled to Bogotá on business. When the sound of an approaching lahar was first to be heard at the disaster-night, 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. Shortly after it hit their house, Sánchez became trapped under the chunks of concrete and other debris that came with the lahar and could not free herself.

Next few hours she was covered by concrete but however, she got 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 enormously trapped under a large part of her house's roof. Although, various sources have given various statements as to the degree to which Sánchez was trapped. Some say that she was “trapped up to her neck”, while Germán Santa María Barragán, a journalist who was working as a volunteer in the Armero tragedy said that she was trapped up to her waist.
Sánchez was stuck and immovable from the waist down, but her upper body was partially free of the concrete and mud. 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 impossible to do so without breaking her legs in the process. Each time a person pulled her, the water pooled around her, rising 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, divers found that Sánchez’s legs were caught under a door made of bricks, with her aunt’s arms clutched tightly around her legs and feet.

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.

Near the end of her life, Sánchez’s eyes became reddened, 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. Lacking the 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 approximately 10:05 A.M. on November 16 from exposure, most likely from gangrene or hypothermia.

Sánchez’s courage and dignity touched millions of hearts around all over the world. A photograph of her taken by the photojournalist Frank Fournier shortly before she died was internationally published in various news outlets. It was later designated the World Press Photo of the Year for 1986. Sánchez has remained an unforgettable figure in popular culture who is borne in mind through the music, literature and various commemorative articles.


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