ARMERO, Colombia — Thousands of mummified bodies have been uncovered in the hardened mud around the ruins of Armero, devastated by a volcanic eruption five weeks ago.
During an inspection this weekend, five bodies were seen trapped inside a car, evidently stopped in their desperate attempt to escape from the advancing wall of mud. Nearby, a motorcyclist was engulfed in an avalanche of clay.
The Nov. 13 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano melted the snow on the slopes of the volcano and touched off a mammoth mud slide that buried 23,000 people. Since then, the blanket of mud has dried and receded, and thousands of bodies have emerged.
Crust of Ash
Today, it is possible to walk across part of the crust of volcanic ash, rocks and dried mud that covers more than 7,000 acres.
This weekend, military authorities lifted strict controls that had been imposed to avert epidemics, and survivors were allowed to return to what is left of their once-picturesque town.
"I have just found my family. They did not die engulfed by the avalanche; they died from hunger and thirst," said an old woman crying beside her miraculously intact house.
Inside lay five decomposed bodies without a trace of mud on them.
The survivors were salvaging doors, windows and roof tiles--anything that can be used to build a new home elsewhere. No one can be sure if they are searching the rubble of their own houses or those of their neighbors.
Colombian authorities are still seeking a site for a new Armero. Green patches of rice and sorghum give the impression that life could start here again.
But new cracks recently reported in the massive snow-cap covering the 16,200-foot volcano have increased fears of a new avalanche.
Authorities say that seismic activity is being monitored around the clock and that evacuation plans have been prepared.