Iconic Photo: Omayra Sánchez

This haunting image shows 13 year old Omayra Sánchez neck-deep in flood water and debris caused by 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Armero, Colombia. Her pasty-white shriveled hands and bloodshot eyes are the result of nearly 60 hours of exposure, having been trapped in the same position since the lahar and melted ice-cap water reached her town. She died a few hours after this image was taken.

The photograph was made by Frank Fournier, and was almost immediately surrounded by controversy when it was published. Some criticized the photographer for acting like a vulture, preying on the victims with his camera, but Fournier defended his actions saying that he believed it was his duty to report on “the courage and the suffering and the dignity of the little girl”. The image, titled the “Agony of Omayra Sánchez”, won the World Press Photo in 1985, just one of the haunting images captured by Fournier that day and included in his entry for Spot News stories.

This girl was trapped under the debris of her house, her legs were bent at an angle like she was kneeling, with her dead aunt at her feet. Rescue workers tried everything they could to help her, but they couldn’t pump water out, they couldn’t lever the debris out, and they didn’t have the medical equipment to amputate her legs without killing her painfully. she was TRAPPED. Nobody there could help her, nobody. Not the rescue workers, not the locals, not this photojournalist.
this baby girl was dying for 60 hours, delirious and sick, because emergency services in the wake of a disaster were fucking terrible. this beautiful, sweet angel spent her last hours not understand what was happening to her, dying painfully, because no one could help her- no one had the resources to help her.

We would not know her name, we would not know her horrific story, we would not know her bravery, her dignity, her courage in the face of death, if this photo did not exist. we would not have her black eyes, staring into our souls, and imprinted into our hearts.

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