After the earthquake, a post-apocalypse world straight out of Dickens or Kafka

THE SCENE was how you might imagine a post- apocalypse world to look: part-Dickens, part-Kafka, pitch black with only flickering campfires to light hollow faces that didn't bother to look up at passing strangers.

As I walked through this earthquake-demolished Colombian town in the thick darkness before dawn yesterday, I felt as though everything was happening in slow motion.

Armenia was the worst-hit town in Monday's quake, accounting for two- thirds of the 750 officially confirmed dead so far.

But it was not the odour of death, the lines of bodies in the morgue or even the eerie feeling that people were still alive in the rubble of buildings that sent chills up the spine.

It was the way tens of thousands of residents lined the streets in small clusters, huddled in ragged blankets outside their destroyed, damaged or endangered homes throughout the night.

Still numbed by the quake and a series of aftershocks - the latest yesterday morning just after 1am - most gazed blankly into their pine campfires as this lone figure stopped by to ask for their stories. But not all. One woman, 43-year-old Maria Eugenia Castro, insisted I drink her small cup of steaming-hot tinto, or black coffee, even though she said she hadn't eaten in the 36 hours since the quake brought down her apartment ceiling. Another, Maria Olga Moraes, 32, held up the half inch-tall remnant of her last white candle so that I could take notes when I peeked under the plastic and corrugated-iron awning that now serves as home for her family, including her 60-year-old mother and six-year-old niece, Leidi.

Others begged me to ask world leaders where reported aid was going since they had so far seen none and needed food, blankets, candles, plastic covering from the rain.

As officials ordered the digging of mass graves and put out an urgent call for coffins, Armenia by night - with all electric power down - conjured up the end of the world.

Elderly men, women and children huddled together in heavy drizzle, most under sheets of plastic held up by pine or wax palm trunks but some under single blankets in fields or other open spaces. When dawn broke, some approached their homes to pick at the rubble with their bare hands in the hope of finding loved ones.

Many referred to the day's radio reports of the arrival of aid and rescue helpers from Mexico, Japan, the US, and even a team of Scottish thermal image experts to trace survivors amid the rubble. But almost all said not an iota of food, clothing, blankets or anything else had reached them. Nor had any officials visited them to see their plight at first hand, they said.

Rescuers pulled out two little girls alive early yesterday who were trapped for 36 hours. One woman, now known here as the Music Box Lady, was not so lucky. When rescuers called out, the woman did not reply but a music box began to play. The rescuers assumed she could not speak and was trying to prove she was alive. By the time they reached her, however, she had died and her music box had fallen silent.

On the main square of Armenia - so-named because of its late 19th-century founders came from that country - rescuers yesterday dug at the rubble of a five-storey apartment block and a popular corner cafe called Sandwich Cubano. Officials estimate scores of people were lunching in the cafe when Monday's earthquake hit at 1.19pm and scores more were in the 27 apartments above.

Standing alongside the rubble, dotted by pieces of clothing, shoes, pillows, an old fridge, you could easily imagine people still in there, perhaps trapped in a space with air, frustrated, desperate, unable to alert the rescuers. After Mexico City's big 1985 earthquake, survivors were pulled out up to eight days later.

Armenia was by no means a poor town. Next to the cafe, the Bolivar Theatre, most of which collapsed, would have been frequented by wealthy cattle ranchers or coffee farmers. Across the central Bolivar square, the regional parliament had slid sideways across the main 14th Avenue while its taller neighbour, the regional Interior Ministry building, stood straight with nothing but a few cracks on its facade.

Next to the latter, a woman called Amanda Lopez stood all day staring at the rubble of an apartment block, removing debris with her hands, convinced her mother Mercedes would eventually emerge alive. Rescuers were nowhere to be seen.

Climbing the rubble of the same building, a middle-aged man poked at where he thought his apartment might have ended up in the disaster, then let out a yell of horror, saying he had just seen his young daughter's arm.

Around the square, the newly homeless slept on the neat red brick surface, many of them covered only by blankets in heavy drizzle.

Officials estimated up to 250,000 people were now living rough here and in the rest of the so-called Cauca Valley, heartland of Colombia's coffee industry.

In the city of Pereira, 25 miles from here, residents emerged to see widespread damage and at least 30 dead but found that the city's most famous statue had survived.

It is known as the Naked Bolivar and shows South America's liberation hero without clothes, an unprecedented avant garde work that caused shock when unveiled in 1963 but later won acceptance as a quirky town attraction.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game