|Disasters Preparedness and Mitigation - Issue No. 26 - January, 1986 (PAHO)|
Colombia: Nevado del Ruiz Volcano Erupts
Photos: Julio Vizcarra/PAHO
After nearly 150 years of lying dormant. the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, located 55 km northwest of the capital of Bogotá, erupted fiercely on 13 November 1985. The intense heat and seismic activity accompanying the eruption melted several glaciers and transformed rivers flowing from the volcano into tumultuous streams of mud, debris, and ash. almost completely burying the town of Armero with an estimated population of 30.000.
Volcanic mudflows are known as lahars. Lahars rush down the slopes of volcanic mountains with speeds as great as 100 km/hr. Because of their frequency, lahars rival or even surpass glowing avalanches as the prime volcanic agent of destruction.
After several days of intense search and rescue operations, hampered by the fact that access to the stricken area was possible only by air, the death toll hovered at 23,000. The disaster affected a 1.000 square km. area which had constituted an important source of agriculture for the country. Other affected towns in the provinces of Tolima and Caldas included Chinchina where an additional 2,000 persons were reported dead or missing, Mariquita, where 20,000 persons were evacuated, and Guayabal. An estimated 10,000 were left homeless, and bridges and roads destroyed.
More than 4,000 persons required immediate emergency medical attention. The 1,200 who required hospitalization and could not be attended to in the immediate area were transported to surrounding areas including Bogotá.
No outbreaks of communicable diseases were detected, although strict epidemiological surveillance continued to be carried out, particularly in temporary shelters and overcrowded areas. Gastroenteritis can pose a problem to those areas where the drinking water supply has been affected but public health education campaigns on hygiene are underway to alert the population to these dangers.
With the exception of the continuing activities of the Expanded Program on Immunization, no massive vaccination campaigns were envisioned. Mass antityphoid vaccinations were not only unnecessary but would have been counterproductive.
In the early hours of 4 January the volcano again began to rain sulfuric acid on the area, prompting the evacuation of an estimated 40,000 persons within a 30-mile radius of' the Nevado del Ruiz volcano.
As we go to press, close seismic monitoring of the area continues as all indications point to the possibility of further eruptions and catastrophic lahars.
Multi-Agency Training Courses
The World Health Organization's Office of Emergency Relief Operations, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva jointly have organized a three-week course encompassing eight interrelated fields dealing with emergency situations. HELP 86 (Health Emergencies in Large Populations), a training course for managing international assistance, will be held from 2-21 June 1986 in Geneva and conducted in English. It is designed to train experienced health personnel who deal with disaster situations to improve coordination between agencies involved in disaster relief, select methods of assessment tailored to specific emergency situations and stimulate research in this particular field. Applications from health professionals with previous experience in emergency situations must be received by 1 March 1986. Registration fee SF1,500. Write: International Committee for the Red Cross, Medical Division-HELP 86, 17, Avenue de la Paix, 1202, Geneva, Switzerland.
Aftermath of the Earthquake in Mexico