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Frightened Residents Flee to the Hills With Volcano

November 17, 1985

MARIQUITA, Colombia (AP) _ As daylight faded and air traffic in and out of this key relief point dwindled, residents went into the hills to spend the night, fearing the Nevado Del Ruiz volcano would again spew forth destruction.

Last Wednesday, the Andean volcano erupted, melting its snowcap and sending tons of mud and debris cascading down the mountainside. It buried four towns and killed, according to government estimates, more than 21,500 people.

A Bogota radio station, Caracol, said Saturday afternoon there were two new eruptions, and the government ordered an emergency evacuation of the area before it was determined that the report was false.

Refugee centers were abandoned and cab drivers dumped passengers in mid- journey to fetch family members. A few people waited as darkness approached at the mountain airfield, its runway lit only by oilcans, hoping to hitch a ride out.

Thousands of people from Mariquita settled in for the night on the hill behind the city. Campfires and candlelight dotted the hillside, and the narrow road out of town was clogged with vehicles.

Authorities issued a later report saying there was no immediate threat of another avalanche of mud, but most people decided to spend the night on higher ground.

″Nothing is happening, but the people don’ believe the government,″ said Jairo Fredy Giraldo, 27. ″Everyone imagines that thousands of tons of mud and water will come. So they run.″

Many people recalled that authorities had reassured residents of nearby Armero when the volcano began erupting Wednesday night, rather than evacuating the city of 50,000 people. The mudslide buried most of the town.

Giraldo said the inconvenience of what turned out to be a false alarm didn’t bother him.

″From now on, at every alarm, I and my family will run,″ he said.

Most people fled with few provisions. As they tried to get comfortable on the rocky slope, they exchanged stories about the horrors of the past few days and complained that authorities had failed to provide them with food, water, tents and other supplies.

″We need medicine, tents and walkie-talkies most of all,″ said a Red Cross worker, Dr. Carlos Avila, who was tending a 7-year-old child.

Maria Delores Cierra Hidalgo said she and her family had been on the hill since Wednesday night.

″We ran because in the night, ash from the crater rained down on our house,″ she said as her three children slept in the back of a truck nearby.

She said she didn’t know when her family would return to their house less than a mile from the river, ″There is no safety there.″

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