Hundreds of bodies are scattered in the mud sea that has engulfed Armero, and there are still many injured persons trapped in the morass, but only a helicopter, operating in daylight, can reach them.

I spent Thursday night on a tiny island of safe land protruding from the quagmire of what was once the outskirts of Armero, where about 20,000 persons are believed to have died under mud slides and floods caused by the eruption Wednesday night of the volcano Nevado del Ruiz.

The screams of injured survivors could be heard throughout the night, but it was impossible to help them in the dark, for to take a step into the ocean of ooze was to risk death.

When morning came, another photographer who shared my perch and I laid a path of corrugated-iron sheets to reach some of the injured and helped pull them to dry land.

We were later evacuated by helicopter along with the injured. As the craft rose, dozens of other survivors could be seen trapped in the mud.

We had landed on the island from the helicopter aboard which we spent yesterday flying down the Mariquita Valley, taking pictures and helping to pull corpses and survivors out of the glutinous mass until past sundown.

Flying over the area, we saw prostrate survivors on islands of firm ground, waiting for help to come to them because they could not move.

Flying into Armero from the north, we saw the local hospital, devastated by the mud slides and showing no signs of life.

At one point, a pregnant woman asked us to help pull her husband out of the mud. His leg was caught, and we dug into the mud to free him. As we dug lower, we came across their children; all three of them were dead.

We finally managed to get the father out and put him aboard the helicopter. The survivors were in a state of panic.