The government acknowledges the difficulties in evacuating across Nevado del Ruiz: “Peasants are afraid of losing what little they have”

The government acknowledges the difficulties in evacuating across Nevado del Ruiz: “Peasants are afraid of losing what little they have”
Colombian authorities conducted a census of peasants living near the crater of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Villamaría on April 3, 2023.Stringer (Reuters)

The Colombian government is having difficulties evacuating residents at potential risk of the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, located between Tolima and Caldas. “The peasants are afraid of losing what little they have. Their cows, their sheep,” Luis Fernando Velasco, director in charge of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD), explained to this newspaper by phone. Several government agencies toured the affected communities to raise awareness of the need to implement preventive evacuation. Mayors and governors have until Friday night to send data on evacuation levels to UNGRD. Velasco hopes there will be consolidated numbers on Saturday.

“We haven’t received the response we would like from some people,” said the director in charge of UNGRD after the fifth meeting of the Unified Command Center (PMU) which he led with the Minister of Environment, Suzana Mohamed. He maintains, however, that successes have been achieved in evacuating children, under the responsibility of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF), and that the Ministry of Agriculture is working on a program to clear land where farmers’ livestock could be. he moved. Meanwhile, municipalities are responsible for providing shelters that welcome those affected.

And Velasco notes that there is no certainty whether or not the volcano will erupt. He makes it clear, however, that preemptive evacuation is necessary because there are worrying signs it may happen. “We can’t be so irresponsible in saying when it will be an eruption, but we can’t be irresponsible in not preparing for the possibility of it either,” he comments. The Global Case and Colonization Response Consortium estimates there are about 2,500 families in high-risk areas.

Colombian soldiers talk with a peasant from the area in the Nevado del Ruiz volcano area in Murillo, April 3, 2023.Joaquin Sarmiento (AFP)

Nevado del Ruiz has been worrying since March 24. The seismic activity in the Arenas crater has reached levels not recorded for years and the temperature has reached alarming measurements, indicating that magma is close to the surface. The Colombian Geological Services reported on March 31 that its activity level reached orange for the first time in 10 years.

The eruption can bring gases and liquids at high speeds and temperatures. The deadliest phenomena are the expulsion of “burning clouds” or pyroclastic flows – a mixture of superheated gases and solid particles – and fracturing of rocks that can fall on humans. If the eruption is very strong, ash can reach thousands of kilometers and mudflows can form that affect rivers.

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The UNGRD director highlights the importance of remembering the Armero tragedy in 1985, when 25,000 people died in an avalanche caused by a volcanic eruption. “Officials at all levels are going around telling people to remember,” he says. In the event of an imminent eruption, alarms will be activated and church bells will ring to activate emergency evacuations.

The Colombian Geological Service (SGC) reported on Friday that the volcano is recording a slight decrease in seismic activity compared to Thursday, but that the orange level remains. At the moment, Velasco stresses, there are no secondary risks. In 1985, there were earthquakes all year round. They stopped for a few days and after a week it was the big bang,” he confirms.

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