The New York Times
January 26, 1999
1,000 Feared Dead in Colombia Quake


          ARMENIA, Colombia -- The death toll surpassed 1,000 today from a powerful earthquake
          that destroyed nearly two-thirds of all the buildings in this western Colombian city.

          But as Colombians reeled from the worst tremor to strike this earthquake-prone country in more
          than a century, citizens cheered in the streets of downtown early today when the Red Cross rescued
          three men trapped overnight in the rubble of a wrecked four-story building.

          Stunned residents in Colombia's coffee belt chose to wait out the night around bonfires rather than
          venture back into their crumpled homes following the magnitude 6 quake.

          The earthquake flattened cities and towns across western Colombia on Monday afternoon, rattling
          buildings as far away as the capital, Bogota, 140 miles from the epicenter.

          Hundreds of the dead lived in Armenia, a city of 220,000 residents where entire neighborhoods
          were reduced to rubble and left without water or electricity, and where residents say relief has
          been slow to arrive.

          Quindio state ombudsman Piedad Correal spoke of chaos, saying inmates had set fire to Armenia's
          San Bernardo prison, which was still burning this morning, and would not allow firefighters in.

          About 700 inmates in the Pena Blanca jail in nearby Calarca were also staging an uprising, she said.

          Capt. Ciro Antonio Guiza, Armenia's deputy fire chief, said rescue workers were so strapped that
          many bodies remained on the streets uncollected.

          Civil defense officials put the preliminary casualty figures at 550 dead and 2,700 injured. However,
          rescue officials said this was only a partial accounting of the overall toll.

          ``There are more than 1,000 dead, perhaps more than 2,000 in Armenia alone,'' Armenia's deputy
          fire chief said.

          Hundreds of bodies were trapped in buildings that collapsed, he said. In one 10-story apartment
          building alone, an estimated 60 people were crushed to death, Guiza said.

          Some 700 buildings were destroyed and 180,000 people left homeless in Armenia, Colombian
          Red Cross official Carlos Gilberto Giraldo told The Associated Press.

          Red Cross workers and the government's National Solidarity Network said at least 178 died and
          more than 1,000 were injured in Calarca and Pereira, capital of neighboring Risaralda province.

          The injured were being evacuated by air to Bogota, Medellin and Cali, and by road to nearby
          Manizales. Without refrigerator trucks to store the hundreds of rotting corpses, epidemics could
          break out, worried Giraldo.

          Iliana Patricia Vega, 26, paced the working-class Brasilia Nueva district in tears, her bright red dress
          torn, her right shoulder naked to the cool night.

          ``Oh, my baby, he was so beautiful,'' she said of her 10-year-old son, Jon Alexander.

          She was on the second floor with her son and 6-year-old daughter when everything collapsed, killing
          the boy almost immediately.

          ``Does anyone have any medicine? Can I get some medicine?'' she cried, fretting over a nasty gash
          to the little girl's forehead.

          Across the street, Pedro Maria Londono, 46, and the rest of his four-member family were
          miraculously saved when every room but the one they were in was destroyed.

          ``In 12 seconds, I lost what took 20 years to build,'' Londono said.

          Guiza said 60 percent of the city was destroyed. Worst hit were the poor southern districts. Some
          340 bodies were collected at a makeshift morgue but many more were expected later in the day, he

          ``There's no way to measure this crisis,'' said Alvaro Patino, Armenia's mayor.

          As Colombians reeled from the temblor, relief efforts continued through the night.

          To applause from a crowd in the center of Armenia, Red Cross workers early today excavated
          three men who were trapped on the first floor of a four-story building for more than 13 hours.

          The men were having coffee in a pawn shop and saved themselves by ducking between a large safe
          and the wall just before the floors above came down on them.

          President Andres Pastrana toured the disaster zone Monday, vowing more federal aid after
          daybreak and urging his countrymen to chip in. He also canceled plans to travel to Munich,
          Germany, for meetings today with World Bank officials.

          Heeding the president's call for aid, donors formed long lines at Bogota blood banks and rang

          Landslides -- which had slowed the arrival of rescue equipment and supplies -- were cleared, and
          convoys of government vehicles with cranes and other heavy equipment converged on the disaster

          An air force plane shuttled rescue equipment, medical supplies, food and blankets to the region.

          Teams of earthquake specialists from the United States, including 64 from Florida's Dade County,
          and Japan were due later today to join the search for survivors.

          Schools and stadiums were converted to makeshift shelters and morgues.

          More than 350 people were treated at the Southern Hospital in Armenia, where blood smeared the
          floors and walls and patients spent the night huddled on rusted gurneys.

          Armenia's three-story fire station tumbled in pieces onto its 14 vehicles. At least nine people were
          killed when the building's concrete floors came crashing down. Officers were also feared killed in the
          collapse of a police barracks.

          Five members of the Colombian professional soccer club Atletico Quindio -- three Argentines and
          two Brazilians -- were also feared dead in the ruins of a downtown Armenia hotel.

          ``There isn't a point in the city's geography which was not affected by this horrific tragedy,'' Patino
          told RCN radio.

          Monday's quake was the deadliest in Colombia since 1875, when about 1,000 people died in a
          tremor near Cucuta, a border city with Venezuela.

          Colombia's worst disaster was a 1985 volcanic eruption in central Tolima state that destroyed an
          entire town and killed 23,000 people.

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company