National Geographic : 1962 Jun
a final shout of "Save yourselves!" Lamberto ran up the street; the happy music receded in to a hollow thunder of avalanche. From her potato field little Herminia Mejia heard the fearful sound. In terror, she began to run uphill across garden plots, "even step ping upon the little plants." Electrician Olivera sprinted down into the center of town, but realized he could nev er reach his home in time. People were panick ing. Scores were running toward the church, a haven for body and spirit. In the crowd Olivera saw Lira and Wanda Giraldo. "Here!" he called, seizing each by the wrist to pull them toward safety. Mayor Caballero stood in speechless awe before his adobe house. He tried to call his sister, but the roar obliterated his words. Doom Roars Down on Ranrahirca From its first fall off the cliff, the avalanche had struck an uninhabited slope. Then the whole flotilla-sized ice mass had actually bounced. Surveyors later counted five impact points-an insane zigzag ricocheting from the sides of gorges (following pages). The mass, stirring tempests of shrill wind, carved and collected its own debris: topsoil, crushed houses from four mountain villages, flocks of sheep, granite boulders. As it approached the valley floor, the roar ing avalanche flattened to a mere 60 feet in thickness. It slowed to a mile a minute. By this time it had already taken perhaps a thou sand human lives. Now the icy, muddy, rocky mass bore down upon some 2,700 people of (Continued on page 866) Living remnant of Ranrahirca hud dles beside a monstrous graveyard 30 to 60 feet thick at its center. Keeping lonely vigil, a militiaman guards the dead-end street (above and left). Here at twilight last January 10, children played while mothers cooked supper. Then, with frightful rumble, the avalanche struck. And the silence of a tomb prevailed. Battered clockface shows approxi mate time of death. The avalanche hit Ranrahirca at 6:18, burying the church and those who took refuge in it. Found nearly a mile away, the clock must have "sailed like a stone skipped across a pond," said the mayor.