Location map


Armero, Colombia





Team Deployment

5 member IRC rescue team and
5 AUI (Action d’Urgence Internationale)

Team members wait for onward transport. This was at the Red Cross centre in Bogotá. Neil Worrall and Willie McMartin.

Survivors arrive by bus from the disaster location to be given second hand clothing by the Red Cross.

This is one of a group of small planes used to move the team from Bogotá to Mariquita. (A second air lift was still required-from Mariquita into Armero.)

The team waits for transport from Mariquita to Armero. Geoff Milne is in the centre. The others are AUI (Action d'Urgence Internationale) wearing IRC overalls.

A view of the mud slide just as it flows from the small side valley into the larger valley, just prior to Armero

The mud covered approximately 77 square miles. It washed away many small farms, homesteads and the town of Armero. The mud was boiling hot when it surged into the valley.

What was left of Armero. This small area was only saved by a football stadium which held back the mud flow and created this small island. 21,000 of Armero’s 25,000 population died in the boiling mud and water. The football stadium finally collapsed and no trace was left standing.

The local cemetery. The fact that it survived indicated to the locals that this entire area should be classed as a cemetery (the land of the dead). This meant that few would enter it at any time and none would stay during the hours of darkness.

A sond search in Armero. AUI members.

Looking onto the mud and debris. The red arrow shows that the IRC team have searched the area to the right.

On 13th November 1985 Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano in Tolima, Colombia erupted after 150 years of dormancy. Stratovolcanoes are the most picturesque and the most deadly of the volcano types. Their lower slopes are gentle, but they rise steeply near the summit.

Even though it is located only 310 miles (500 km) from the equator, the volcano’s summit is covered with snow.

Just after 2100 a more serious eruption began causing the mountain’s glaciers to melt, sending four enormous lahars (volcanically induced mudslides, landslides, and debris flows) down its slopes at 50 kilometres per hour (30 miles per hour). The lahars picked up speed in gullies and coursed into the six major rivers at the base of the volcano.

Armero, which lay in a valley below the 16,200-foot high (4,937m) volcano, was virtually destroyed – buried by mud and rubble swept down on to it, killing more than 20,000 of its almost 29,000 inhabitants.

The relief efforts were hampered by fallen bridges and impassable roads and by the composition of the mud, which made it nearly impossible to move through without becoming stuck. By the time relief workers reached Armero twelve hours after the eruption, many of the victims with serious injuries were dead. The relief workers were horrified by the landscape of fallen trees, disfigured human bodies, and piles of debris from entire houses. This was the second-deadliest volcanic disaster of the 20th century, surpassed only by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, and is the fourth-deadliest volcanic event recorded since 1500 AD.

The only way into Armero was by helicopter. A landing area had to be made in the market square to allow them to land.

Building debris, bodies and to the left of the photo, a 10 ton lorry. All the family in the picture album were killed. The lorry was washed approx 1~2 mile before landing on this roof.

The Army General, who was at the time in charge of operations, visits the team at the camp in Lereda with a request from the President, that the team help with the search of the reed beds. Such a visit was almost unheard of, as in his position it was more usual for everyone to be summoned to him. Mike White.

Loading a plane for the trip to Mariquita

IRC Team

4 Venezuelans with back row, 1 AUI team member, Willie McMartin, John Hilson, Patrick Stanton. (An Englishman not with IRC) and front row Mike White.

A Police Long-ranger Helicopter. The team used this and the E.E.V. thermal image camera (TIC) to search large areas of mud and reeds prior to their return to Bogotá. The rear doors and seats were removed to allow for any survivors to be carried. It was necessary for the operator to sit out on the skid to keep the E.E.V. thermal image camera (TIC) away from the heat of the engine. Neil Warrell.

A family rescued by I.R.C. An IRC team member is trying to get them to drop down from the ledge. He is behind the tree.

A hill top shelter. A local red cross worker who became stranded in town one evening. He was moved to a hilltop shelter when the mud started to flow again as rain fell some miles away. Willie McMartin.

Jesus - a Venezuelan Fireman with Willie McMartin.

Lereda. The search and rescue co-ordination centre run by the army. All the search teams, equipment, stores and medical services were located here. The galvanised steel buildings, which are all in one and not separate small units, have no floors, doors or windows. They will be used to house 200 people each. When the search is over the complete field will be covered in such buildings.

Armero’s only fireman to survive with 1 member from A U I and Geoff Milne of IRC.

Team List.

Michael White                Team Leader
William McMartin
John Hilson
Geoff  Milne
Neil Worrall

Media Requests

To feature any part of our stories in your own publications, please contact Julie Ryan on press@intrescue.org or call +44 7786 881 908