In November 1985 the Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano in Tolima, Colombia erupted. The eruption caused 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.

Colombia November 1985

Location

Armero, Colombia

Mudslide

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.

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.
On 13th November 1985 Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano in Tolima, Colombia erupted after 150 years of dormancy. 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.
Loading a plane for the trip to Mariquita
The 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.

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

A Police Helicopter. The rear doors and seats were removed to allow for any survivors to be carried. Neil Warrell.

Lereda. The search and rescue co-ordination centre run by the army.
Armero’s only fireman to survive the mudslide, with 1 member from A U I and Geoff Milne of IRC.

Jesus - a Venezuelan Fireman with Willie McMartin.
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.

The red arrow shows that the IRC team have searched the area to the right.

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