Bogot'a, Colombia — The Nevado del Ru'iz volcano erupted yesterday morning, burying the town of Armero in a bed of ash and debris and sparking flash floods in nearby provinces. While the death toll continues to mount, officials said they feared at least 15,000 to 20,000 dead, making the Colombian tragedy possibly the worst volcanic disaster in South American history. Officials said 10,000 people were rescued late Thursday in the farming town of Armero, about 30 miles from the Andean volcano and 105 miles northwest of Bogot'a. The town, in the state of Tol'imo, had a population of 50,000.
Mud and snow swept down to the Langunilla River when the volcano erupted and sent gushing waters crashing into Armero when most residents were still sleeping. The volcano has been spewing smoke, ashes, and gases since last year.
The Colombian Civil Aeronautics Administration prohibited all private and commercial flights into the area because of poor visibility due to ash still in the air, a CAA captain said.
Ambulances and rescue workers were having difficulty reaching Armero, because the mud destroyed the highway and five bridges leading into the town, the CAA official quoted civil defense workers as saying.
Dr. Darrell Herd, deputy chief of the US Geological Survey's Office of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Engineering in Reston, Va., said the volcano's last eruption of this magnitude was in 1595. Since then it has been active with minor eruptions.
He said the volcano reawakened with a series of strong earthquakes on Dec. 22.
He said that between then and a steam eruption Sept. 11, it averaged 35 earthquakes a month. He called the eruptions until now ``literally clearing out the volcano's throat.''
He said the activity was similar to the 1980 activity at Mt. St. Helens before it erupted in 1980.
Marcos party, opposition agree to delay election
Members of President Ferdinand E. Marcos's governing party and opposition groups said yesterday they had agreed to delay a special presidential election Marcos proposed for Jan. 17. They did not agree on a new date, although opposition leaders originally asked for a postponement until March 17 to give them more time to prepare candidates. The Marcos government is pushing for a date not later than the first week of February.
2nd Romanian sailor wins political asylum in US
A Romanian seaman has jumped ship and was granted political asylum in the US, Immigration officials said yesterday. Paul Firica walked off the Romanian vessel Zalau Tuesday night while the ship was docked in the Port of Houston.
Mr. Firica said he had heard during his voyage of Miroslav Medvid, the Soviet seaman who twice jumped into the Mississippi River, only to be returned to his ship. Mr. Medvid later returned home aboard his ship.
Another Romanian sailor defected last week in Florida.
Senate backs strict quotas on textile, clothing imports
The Senate approved new, strict quotas yesterday on imports of textiles and clothing from 12 countries and on leather shoes from all world exporters, despite President Reagan's vow to veto protectionist bills. The measure passed on a vote of 60 to 39.
Hundreds of black strikers arrested at S. African hospital
Police arrested 718 black strikers at the huge Baragwanath Hospital in the black township of Soweto yesterday, under state-of-emergency laws. Virtually all the strikers voluntarily offered themselves for arrest after leaders of the walkout were detained. The hospital's nonmedical staff, including cooks, cleaners, and porters, had walked out Wednesday to demand higher pay.
Meanwhile, more than 230 prisoners in South Africa were reported to be on a hunger strike to protest being held for more than 14 days, the initial detention period under South Africa's state-of-emergency regulations.
Italy, US add terrorism to organized-crime drive
Attorney General Edwin Meese and Italy's Interior Minister, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, announced Wednesday that terrorism will be included in the work of the Joint Italian-American Working Group to Combat Narcotics Trafficking and Organized Crime. Mr. Meese said the two countries agreed to share intelligence and information about terrorists and to appoint a joint task force to discuss ways to combat the problem. Sources said there was no discussion of Italy's refusal last month to detain Muhammad Abbas, whom US authorities accuse of masterminding the Oct. 7 hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
Ford recalling two models with possible bolt problem
Ford Motor Company is recalling about 252,000 1984 and 1985 Tempo and Mercury Topaz models for possible problems with rear suspension bolts that could break, causing the cars to go out of control.
Israeli partners confer all day to avert collapse of coalition
All nine parties in the Israeli government coalition were involved in daylong consultations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem yesterday, seeking a means of diverting the collapse of that nation's government. The small National Religious Party led efforts to prevent the right-wing Likud bloc from quitting altogether. As of press time, Prime Minister Shimon Peres still had not delivered a letter of dismissal after threatening to fire Ariel Sharon, trade and industry minister. Mr. Sharon had charged the prime minister with secret negotion with Israel's enemies.
Appalachia gets flood aid; elsewhere, snow eases off
Hundreds of flood survivors in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland began signing up for federal aid as National Guard helicopters shuttled doctors and nurses, vaccines and emergency supplies, for the estimated 22,000 left homeless by floodwaters that killed at least 54 people. Meanwhile, to the west, despite travelers' advisories extending from California to western Minnesota, weather officials predict a slowing down of the snowstorm that stranded hunters and hikers and ripped down power lines early this week.
Efforts stepped up in Beirut to free Islamic Jihad hostages
Efforts to win freedom for American and British hostages in Lebanon intensified yesterday as UN official Jean-Claude Aime raised the issue with government leaders and Church of England envoy Terry Waite made initial contact with the Islamic Jihad, the group believed responsible for the kidnappings. The UN envoy told reporters he had given Lebanese President Amin Gemayel a letter from UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, but declined to disclose its contents.
The man with a shaggy lawn still guilty, but his fine is cut
A judge upheld the original conviction of nature-lover Stephen A. Kenney, who refused to cut his shoulder-high front lawn, but reduced his fine from several thousand dollars to $50. The judge denied Mr. Kenney's contention that the ordinances on which he was convicted were unconstitutional because they were vague, and the judge also decided he knew his actions were illegal. Kenney told the Monitor he intends to appeal the decision. (See Monitor article ``Not everyone is wild about wildflowers,'' July 1, 1985.)