Cover image for No apparent danger : the true story of volcanic disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz
No apparent danger : the true story of volcanic disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz
Bruce, Victoria.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, 2001.
Physical Description:
x, 239 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE523.N48 B78 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



On January 14, 1993, a team of scientists descended into the crater of Galeras, a restless Andean volcano in southern Colombia, for a day of field research. As the group slowly moved across the rocky moonscape of the caldera near the heart of the volcano, Galeras erupted, its crater exploding in a barrage of burning rocks and glowing shrapnel. Nine men died instantly, their bodies torn apart by the blast.

While others watched helplessly from the rim, Colombian geologist Marta Calvache raced into the rumbling crater, praying to find survivors. This was Calvache's second volcanic disaster in less than a decade. In 1985 Calvache was part of a group of Colombia's brightest young scientists that had been studying activity at Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano three hundred miles north of Galeras. They had warned of the dire consequences of an eruption for months, but their fledgling coalition lacked the resources and muscle to implement a plan of action or sway public opinion. When Nevado del Ruiz erupted suddenly in November 1985, it wiped the city of Armero off the face of the earth and killed more than twenty-three thousand people -- one of the worst natural disasters of the twentieth century.

No Apparent Danger links the characters and events of these two eruptions to tell a riveting story of scientific tragedy and human heroism. In the aftermath of Nevado del Ruiz, volcanologists from all over the world came to Galeras -- some to ensure that such horrors would never be repeated, some to conduct cutting-edge research, and some for personal gain. Seismologists, gas chemists, geologists, and geophysicists hoped to combine their separate areas of expertise to better understand and predict the behavior of monumental forces at work deep within the earth.

And yet, despite such expertise, experience, and training, crucial data were ignored or overlooked, essential safety precautions were bypassed, and fifteen people descended into a death trap at Galeras. Incredibly, expedition leader Stanley Williams was one of five who survived, aided bravely by Marta Calvache and her colleagues. But nine others were not so lucky.

Expertly detailing the turbulent history of Colombia and the geology of its snow-peaked volcanoes, Victoria Bruce weaves together the stories of the heroes, victims, survivors, and bystanders, evoking with great sensitivity what it means to live in the shadow of a volcano, a hair's-breadth away from unthinkable natural calamity, and shows how clashing cultures and scientific arrogance resulted in tragic and unnecessary loss of life.

Author Notes

Donald J. Sobol was the author of the highly acclaimed Encyclopedia Brown series and many other books. His awards include a special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his contribution to mystery writing in the United States, and the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers' Choice Award for Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace .

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

These facts are not in dispute: on January 14, 1993, Galeras, a volcano in southern Colombia, erupted, killing nine people who were part of an expedition to study the mountain. Everything else related to this tragedy is cloaked in confusion, just as the mountain itself was shrouded in clouds the morning of a fateful expedition. These two explosive (pardon the pun) accounts offer dueling perspectives not only of the disaster but also of the volcanology and the role egoism plays in the competitive world of science. Geologist Bruce had hoped to cowrite Williams' book. Williams was in charge of the disastrous Galeras expedition, during which he was grievously injured, sustaining two broken legs and a nearly severed foot, two fractured vertebrae, and a life-threatening head injury that drove bone fragments into his brain, broke his jaw, left him deaf in one ear, and affected his mental processes. Montaigne, author of Reeling in Russia (1999), beat Bruce to the coauthor slot, but Bruce soon discovered a story of her own: Williams' version of what happened--in which he claims that no one could have predicted the eruption, a tale he told on television every chance he could during his impressive recovery--is hotly contested by his less-flamboyant peers, who firmly believe that the Galeras deaths of six scientists and three tourists are Williams' fault. There's a tremendous synergy between these two compelling and contrary tales, adventure-tragedies along the lines of Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm. Bruce focuses on events in Colombia, presenting a harrowing description of the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz that killed more than 23,000 people; a crisp chronicle of the 1993 conference that brought dozens of volcano experts to Galeras at Williams' invitation; and her piece de resistance, a thorough explanation of the pioneering work of seismologist Bernard Chouet, whose findings should have prevented the Galeras deaths. Williams takes a wider view, writing passionately about courageous volcano lovers over the centuries and candidly recognizing the heady mix of thrill-seeking and humanitarianism that motivates most volcanologists. Expressing sorrow not guilt, he memorializes his fallen and much-missed comrades. Readers of these page-turners will learn a great deal about volcanoes and about the difference between grandstanding and true heroism. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The fight currently raging within the volcanological community, sketched by the discrepancies between Bruce's work and Stanley Williams and Fen Montaigne's Surviving Galeras (reviewed below), concerns what is known about predicting eruptions, and particularly about Galeras when it blew, and why nine people died in that eruption (see PW, Book News, Feb. 12). In Bruce's harrowing depiction of the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz eruption, which killed 23,000 people, scientists and survivors describe bureaucratic foolishness, scientific discovery and human strife. In her presentation of the 1993 eruption of Galeras, another Colombian volcano, numerous interviews illuminate further human folly, and particularly Williams's pariah status among geologists. Seismologist Bernard Chouet's testimony discredits Williams's assertion that there was no warning of the eruption. Previously, Chouet had successfully predicted two eruptions from seismographic patterns also visible when Galeras erupted. While Williams says this was never brought to his attention, Bruce notes that leading a team into an active volcano without checking available data hardly seems responsible scientific practice. Chouet claims he presented his prediction technique, with Williams present, in 1991. Further, expedition members contend that, despite Galeras's signs of activity, Williams ignored advice to shorten the visit. One survivor says Williams took no safety precautions and mocked his colleagues who wore hard hats. Scientist and journalist Bruce traces the fascinating recent history of Colombian volcanoes and the scientific community's politics, wherein intellectual property generates fame and near-fortune, in an insightful, spellbinding account. Photos and illus. (Apr. 2) Forecast: Bruce's 11-city tour, participation in Columbia University's Earth Science Colloquium in March and the much-publicized Galeras debacle promise big sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1993, a Colombian volcano named Galeras erupted, killing six scientists and three tourists inside its rim and severely injuring the expedition's leader, eminent vulcanalogist Williams. Could this tragedy have been avoided? Could the eruption have been predicted? Two new books debate those questions from opposite ends of the spectrum. Williams offers a firsthand account of the disaster, which traumatized him physically and psychologically, while Bruce, a science writer with a master's degree in geology, provides an investigative journalist's perspective. Arguing that there is no method of accurately predicting eruptions, Williams defends his actions, and his book reads as a partial apology to the nine who died and to all who were injured. Bruce, who also discusses a 1985 eruption at another Colombian volcano that left 23,000 people dead (studied in a referreed scientific publication by Williams), writes in a more sensational style, accusing Williams of not being a "team player" (for years the scientist claimed he was the only survivor despite evidence to the contrary) and ignoring a seismologist's research indicating that Galeras was ready to explode. However, both authors agree that Marta Calvache and Patty Mothes, two Colombian geologists who ran into the volcano to rescue people, were heroes at Galeras. Williams acknowledges that he owes his life to Calvache's actions. Perhaps the whole story still is not known, but both books read together make a try. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Jean E. Crampon, Science & Engineering Lib., Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.