Just a brief note, but today (November 13) is the 23rd anniversary of the disastrous lahar at Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia. Over 23,000 people died when a lahar, started by a relatively minor eruption of the volcano, swept down the river valleys the side of the edifice and destroyed Armero and Chinchina. The footage of rescue efforts after the lahar were devastating and heartbreaking (caution: linked video might not be for the faint of heart). Sadly, this disaster was mostly preventable as the citizens of these towns could have had at least an hour’s warning to walk to higher ground, but the Colombian government did not have an effective plan in place.

My mother’s home town is Pereira, to the southwest of Ruiz, and I clearly remember driving through the area hit by the lahar a few years after it occurred. It was one of those formative memories, seeing the whole area paved by the mud, rock hard by the time I saw it a few years later. However, if any good came from this event, it was that it opened many people’s eyes around the world to the dangers posed by volcanoes and the relatively simple solutions to preventing tragedies like this.

Currently, there are four (yes, four) volcanoes in Colombia currently active or showing signs of activity – Galeras, Huila, Ruiz and the most recent volcano to make noise, Machin. The aforementioned Machin hasn’t had an identified eruption since 1180 AD, so the increased shallow seismicity are definitely something to monitor closely.


  1. #1 Thomas Donlon
    November 14, 2008

    Hi Erik,

    The link you gave to the Smithsonian Global volcanism program:
    gives the last known eruption of Machin as having taken place “1180 ± 150 years “. But then I got confused when in the body of the text I read there, “The latest known eruption of Volcán Cerro Machín took place about 800 years ago.” Are these different volcanoes? Does “Volcán Cerro Machín” refer to a larger system and Machin just refer to a volcano in that system?
    Can anyone clear this up for me?

  2. #2 Thomas Donlon
    November 17, 2008


    I missed the obvious. “1180 ± 150 years “ was 800 years ago. Erik even added the AD. Sorry for my cluttering post.

    A Smithsonian worker kindly responded to an email I sent and cleared it up for me.

  3. #3 Erik Klemetti
    November 17, 2008

    No problem, I think I even get confused with the way folks like to list the dates of relatively recent volcanic eruptions – either as years AD/BC or in years ago.

  4. #4 German
    November 17, 2008

    Some of my family were at the site of the Armero Lahar on the anniversary laying flowers. I hope the alert system works if Cerro Machin does erupt. I still have family in Ibague, Guayabal, Manizalez and Honda, so I am trying to keep up with events. The pictures are heartbreaking and bring back too many memories. I still have dreams of Armero and can pick out landmarks in photographs and videos.

  5. #5 Alvaro Barrera
    December 15, 2008

    We have published a website to educate people about the Cerro Machin Volcano you can find the hazards map here :

  6. #6 Leo Alblas
    December 24, 2008

    Every year on the 13th of November we remember what happened in 1985. This year it was very special, because the girl I love I lost in 1985 in the Armero disaster fter 23 years I found her back and she was in Holland to meet my family.for the first time. She lost her parenrs and a sister and nothing was found back of her parents house……….. She showed me some pictures tnever publised, two days after the disaster. The human pain is still there and will never go away……..and every year it;s heartbreaking to feel what happened that night in Armero.

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