Back in l902 or l903, and then again in the 70's, a little smoke escaped from the volcano called Chichonal. In March of l982, once again reports were filtering in to Yerba Buena that Chichonal was smoking. However, the volcano lay twenty-miles to the northwest, so no one thought much about it. On Sunday evening, March 28, Yerba Buena's inhabitants were taking part in the second of eight evenings of special church service. Pastor Bercián was present during the services. Here is his story, translated from Spanish, of what happened then:
"At three or four in the afternoon we saw this huge cloud toward the northwest, and certain rumors began floating around that the volcano had erupted. Patients from Pichucalco had been telling us about earthquakes they'd been feeling. So we had our services that night and went to bed thinking about the volcano, but not worrying too much about it. But around midnight we began hearing something falling on the tin roofs, like rain. It was very fine ash. We went outside and looked, and lightning was coming out of the big cloud above the volcano. Well, I'm not sure if it was lightening. Maybe it was the molten lava shooting into the sky and falling back. It made a sound like thunder, but instead of the light being white, as in a storm, it was red."
"On Monday morning when we left our house, everything had a thin covering of white ash. During our 7:00 AM worship service we began seeing hundreds of people from below fleeing the volcano in trucks, mostly heading for Tuxtla, but some coming here. When we finished services that morning people told us that it was a bad eruption and that lots of people were burned and buried in the ash. So we got together and decided to go below to help, to offer first aid. There were three men beside myself and three nurses who went.
So we went to Pichucalco. Hundreds of burn victims from near the volcano were gathered together at the Municipal Building. Chiapas's governor already had flown in, and soldiers had come to help. We told them that we'd come to offer first aid so they let us take the road that carried us right to the volcano's base. The sand and ash was over two feet deep and it was still hot; we passed many people fleeing toward Pichucalco, carrying nothing but their money. They were covered with burns and wounds from the falling molten rocks. Everywhere there were dead birds and in some places people and animals were buried under the sand. You could smell burned things and the odor of sulfur. We passed some villages where everything had been buried beneath sand. Now there was simply nothing there to indicate that once people had lived there. We were in the big gravel-hauling truck but even it hardly could push through the deep sand. At that moment, however, the sand had stopped falling."
"Climbing up a hill, we found some old people and their children, and they were all burned very badly. We brought them down and put them in the truck. One old woman died on the way back to Pichucalco and just when we arrived at the hospital in Pichucalco another died. The others we left at the hospital, and I don't know whether they lived or not. Now the officials refused to let us go back for more wounded because they were afraid of another eruption. Well, when we were going in, the thought that we might ourselves get caught in a second eruption simply never had occurred to me! At about ll:00 PM we returned to Yerba Buena."
"Here we continued our eight days of prayer. Then the next Saturday, at about 6:30, the volcano erupted again. Ash and sand from the first eruption fell to our north; we only got a little of it here. But this time the wind carried ash and sand here. It was heavy sand, too. That night we got all the student nurses together and spent the whole night in the Casa Grande praying, asking the protection of God. Some people cried, others just sat and worried, and some of the children slept. When we got up on Sunday morning, we didn't see any sun. At midday it was like midnight -- completely dark. My son Hans was coughing bad. We talked it over and decided to evacuate everyone to Tuxtla, including the patients. Only about four workers stayed here, to watch over things. The sand was two or three inches deep. Usually between here and Tuxtla you need about three hours but with the sand on the road it took about seven. We had to stay away for three or four weeks."
"When we left, everything was white -- sad, the color of death. Many people thought that this whole area would never return to normal. People were thinking about simply abandoning their land, and going someplace else to restart their lives. But other people said that the sand would fertilize the land and that soon there'd be good harvests here better than anyone ever had seen. In many places houses collapsed because of the sand's weight on the roof. At Yerba Buena we shoveled off the sand as it fell, so that didn't happen. After about a week, a rainstorm came and washed the whiteness off the trees. Curiously, the trees didn't seem to be hurt much."
"The eruption didn't change my concept of God, but it did cause me to think a great deal about how God has tremendous forces there inside the earth. Scripture tells us that once the earth suffered a great flood. Now it awaits another flood, but this time it will be a flood of fire. Before the arrival of Christ, the whole earth will stagger like a drunkard and it'll rain fire and sulfur in order to purify the earth. The inspired books speak of God's forces inside the earth waiting for the final day. During the eruptions we thought a great deal about this and meditated on the meaning of it all."
"Many of our Catholic neighbors thought that this was the end of the world that we Adventists had been talking about, and many of them fled into the Adventist temples, and some even asked to be baptized into our church. But most of them, after the eruptions stopped, went back to the way they were before."