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Panicked Colombians Ordered to Higher Ground as Volcano Rumbles

January 6, 1986

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Scientists using seismographs and helicopters kept constant watch on Nevado del Ruiz, trying to determine whether another major eruption of the volcano that killed 25,000 people in November would follow new tremors and ash showers.

The government said Sunday that it would keep about 15,000 peasants out of valleys near the volcano ″until further instruction.″ Police using sirens roused the peasants Saturday and gave them blankets and food for a trek to higher ground.

Tolima state authorities said Sunday many people had to be almost forcibly evacuated and many were in a state of panic. Evacuees took with them only their most valuable possessions, and thousands of evacuees huddled in mountain caves as torrential rains soaked the area.

The 17,700-foot volcano trembled for the second time in two days Sunday, and chunks of ice drifted down rivers.

About 70 scientists have kept watch on the volcano since the Nov. 13 disaster. Pablo Medina Jaramillo, coordinator of the scientists’ group, said Sunday that volcanic activity first noticed late Friday night ″continues without change.″

Medina Jaramillo said the state of maximum alert will probably last through today. He said scientists are monitoring the Nevado del Ruiz around the clock with seismographs and continuous helicopter flights over the mountain.

The Nov. 13 eruption melted part of the volcano’s cone of ice and snow, sending a 150-foot-high wall of mud down the Lagunilla River. Fifteen feet of mud and debris buried Armero, a coffee center 105 miles northwest of Bogota.

About 23,000 of Armero’s 28,000 residents were killed or disappeared, and 2,000 people died in Chinchina, 22 miles west of the volcano.

The government put the area on maximum alert Saturday after the first sign of new activity. Victor Ricardo, president of the government’s National Emergency Committee, said Sunday that he would maintain the evaucation order ″until further instruction.″

″The government is aware of the inconvenience this measure is causing,″ said Ricardo.″But it’s necessary to protect people’s lives.″

The evacuation orders affects residents of low-lying areas along the Recio, Guali, Azufrado, Lagunilla and Chinchina rivers. Towns affected included Mariquita, Honda, Guyabel, Villamaria, and Ambalema.

The area lies in a 30-mile radius around Nevado del Ruiz. About 150,000 people live there, but government officials said only about 10 percent, or 15,000, were ordered to evacuate.

The most endangered town is Honda, where 20,000 people live along the Guali River. Lozano Neira said huge chunks of ice from the volcano floated down that river Sunday, raising its level by one foot.

Mariquita was another town being carefully monitored, said Lozano Neira. About 18,000 people live there and it also lies near the Guali River.

Red Cross Director Ramiro Lozano Neira said the maximum alert declared by authorities is a preventive measure that keeps motorists from the area, allowing a speedy evacuation in event of an eruption. He said hospitals and the Red Cross were on standby and residents were urged to keep tuned to the radio.