ON THIS DATE in 1985, Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, killing around 21,000 inhabitants of the city of Armero and trapping thirteen-year-old Omayra Sánchez in a pile of debris that she couldn’t escape.
“Can you please help me get out of here?” she said to French photographer Frank Fournier three days later. “I don’t want to be late for school; it starts at 8:30.”
Fournier couldn’t help Omayra, who was pinned down by the door of her house with water up to her neck, and neither could anyone else. The eruption of the volcano had left her trapped in immovable rubble. Her legs would have had to be amputated for her to be removed, and even that wouldn’t have saved her due to a lack of available medical treatment.
Despite more than 60 hours in a captive condition, Omayra remained upbeat, singing and talking about school, family, and friends. “I felt totally powerless in front of this little girl, who was facing death with courage and dignity,” said Fournier, who took a haunting picture of the girl in her last hours of life.
Omayra died on November 17, 1985, of gangrene and hypothermia.