Omayra Sanchez, young victim of the Armero Tragedy in Colombia, 1985

The Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted on 13 November 1985. Pyroclastic flows emanating from the crater melted the mountain's icecap, forming lahars (volcanic mud and debris flows), which fell into the river valleys below.

A wave with three pulses did the most damage. Traveling at 6 meters (20 ft) per second, the first pulse engulfed most of the city of Armero, killing 20,000 people; Two pulses later weakened the buildings. Another wave killed 1,800 people in nearby Chinchina. A total of 23,000 people died and 13 villages were destroyed in addition to Armero.

Omayra Sánchez was a 13-year-old little girl who lived in Armero, when "Nevado del Ruiz" erupted. When the wave destroyed her house, her father and aunt died inside.

She survived the wave, but when rescuers tried to help her, they realized that her legs were stuck under the roof of her house. Once the girl was freed from the waist, her rescuers attempted to rescue her, but found the task impossible without breaking her legs in the process.

Rescuers put a tire around his body to prevent him from drowning. Divers found that Sanchez's feet were trapped under a door made of bricks, with the body of his aunt under his feet.

Despite her plight, Sánchez remained relatively positive: she sang to a German journalist working as a volunteer, asked for sweet food, drank soda, and agreed to interviews.

Sometimes, she was scared and prayed or cried. On the third night, Sanchez began to hallucinate, saying that she didn't want to be late for school, and she mentioned the math test. Near the end of his life, Sanchez's eyes turned red, his face swelled, and his hands turned white.

At one point he asked people to leave him so they could rest. Hours later workers returned with a pump and tried to save her, but her legs were bent under the concrete as if she were kneeling, and it was impossible to free her without cutting off her legs.

Due to the lack of surgical equipment to protect him from the effects of amputation, the doctors attending agreed that it would be more humane to let him die.

In all, Sánchez suffered about three nights (about 60 hours) before she died from exposure at around 10:05 a.m. on November 16, most likely from gangrene or hypothermia.

A French reporter, Frank Fournier, took a photograph of Sanchez in his final hours, titled "The Agony of Omayra Sánchez". In an interview he recalled:

I reached the city of Armero at dawn, about three days after the explosion. I met a farmer who told me about this young girl who needed help. He took me to her, she was almost alone at the time, just a few people were around and some rescuers were helping someone else a little farther away...

I could hear people shouting for help and then the silence - a terrible silence. It hurt a lot. Some were helicopters, some were loaned by an oil company to rescue people. Then there was this little girl and people were powerless to help her. Rescuers kept coming back to him, to local farmers and some people who had some medical help. He tried to console her.

When I took the pictures I felt completely powerless in front of this little girl who was facing death with courage and dignity. She could sense that her life was going on. By this stage, Omaira was flowing in and out of consciousness. s

He even asked me if I could take him to school as he was worried that he would be late. I gave my film to some photographers who were going back to the airport and sent them back to my agent in Paris. Omayra died about three hours after I got there.

The picture was published six months after his death, and later won the World Press Photo of the Year for 1985. Omaira's face became known around the world. Today, she remains a symbol of the Armero tragedy. His grave is visited by locals and tourists and prayed and asked to never repeat the tragedy.

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