|Picture Taken On:
November 16, 1985
|Behind the Camera:
13-year-old Omayra Sanchez trapped in debris caused by a mudslide following the eruption of a volcano in Colombia
Last Updated on 2012-3-19
by Dean Lucas
On November 13, 1985 there was an eruption at the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Ash blanketed the surrounding areas including the town of Armero. The volcano also sent huge mudslides of volcanic ash that swept the countryside around the volcano burying towns and villages under meters of mud. One victim trapped in the carnage was Omayra Sanchez. She was photographed by Frank Fournier hours before her death.
Before the photo
In the Sahtander district of Armero, Colombia Omayra Sanchez sat with her parents, her brother and an aunt, Maria Adela Garzón in their house wondering about the ash raining down. With a loud crash tons of volcanic ash and water, that had mixed together to create a thick mud, slammed into the town. When the mud slide hit the home of 13-year-old Omayra Sanchez it buried her up to her waist in concrete debris from her own home and submerged her up to her neck in freezing water. Due to lack of supplies rescuers were unable to free her and for three days she sat in the water waiting for help. Reporters arrived and photographed her throughout her ordeal bravely giving interviews while people vainly tried to help her.
Taking the photo
Frank Fournier was sent to cover the eruption and he set out to report on the disaster travelling by car for five hours and then walking for two and half hours before arriving on the scene.
When Fournier's Paris Match magazine published the photo a few days later it caused outrage when it was learned that Fournier didn't or couldn't help the girl. Called a vulture he welcomed the controversy as it drew attention to the disaster:
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Born in 1948 at Saint-Sever France Frank Fournier was the son of a surgeon and actually studied medicine for four years before becoming a photographer. He moved to America and in New York worked in the office of Contact Press Images for a few years before becoming a staff photographer in 1982. He won the 1986 World Press Photo award for his picture of Sanchez
Her father was killed under the rubble of the house but her mother and brother were able to escape. Omayra's mother commented, "I will live for my son, who only lost a finger." She expressed her feelings about Omayra's death. "It is horrible, but we have to think about the living." The eruption killed over 25,000 people.
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