In 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia erupted after lying dormant for 69 years. The eruption sent enormous lahars down the volcano and killed 20,000 of the 29,000 residents in the town of Armero. 3,000 other deaths were recorded in other neighbouring towns.
However controversy followed the disaster. Even though the Colombian government had been warned of the impending dangers, they decided not to evacuate the towns near the volcano and as a result, 23,000 lives were lost. Geologists had insisted tragedy was imminent however the residents were not informed. A storm on the day of the eruption added to problems. As a direct result of the disaster, the Columbian government created an office to promote awareness of natural disasters.
Armero is located 48 kilometres away from Nevado del Ruiz. It was mainly a market town surrounded by agricultural land, made fertile by the rich volcanic soil. Previous eruptions in 1595 and 1845 caused damage to the town however loss of life wasn’t huge and each time, the town was rebuilt and improved. In late 1984, tremors were felt near the volcano and geologists predicted an eruption would happen soon. With glacial ice built up over the winter, the possibility of lahars was high and the geologists predicted any magma coming through the summit could have devastating effects. It was nearly a year before the eruption occurred.
On the faithful day, the storm raging in the area meant evacuation communications were not heard and the confusion meant many people stayed indoors as they had been instructed previously. The resulting lahars from the melting ice of the glaciers destroyed all in their paths including Armero. Overall, 3 lahars hit the town and 85% of it was covered in mud. A final lahar hit the town of Chinchina and killed 1,800 people there. 13 towns and villages in total were destroyed.
The volcano remains a serious threat to towns and villages around it and even small eruptions can trigger devastating lahars. The glaciated ice atop the volcano is the primary worry. Armero was never rebuilt and those who did survive moved to other towns. The Colombian government now has an agency dealing with natural disasters and they’ve learnt much from the Armero tragedy.
Location: Armero, Colombia
Category: Ghost Town