Clinging to a trunk against a massive current of mud outside her home, Evangelina Chamorro cried out to her husband.
The furious mudslide that had swept away the Peruvian family’s pigs and cows was quickly pulling her in, too.
“I can’t anymore,” she told him.
“Have strength!” he urged her.
That was the moment the trunk broke and, despite her husband’s desperate attempts to grasp her, Chamorro slipped into the sludge of mud. She emerged 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away, enveloped in the muck as onlookers captured her plight on their cellphone cameras.
The image of Chamorro escaping the mudslide has now been broadcast around the world, catapulting the 32-year-old onto countless television screens while being hailed in Peru as a symbol of strength in the most devastating environmental calamity to strike the Andean nation in two decades.
As of Thursday, 84 people had been killed in floods and landslides caused by El Nino storms wreaking havoc across the nation this year. The floods have destroyed 145,000 homes and 5 percent of national roads.
The U.S. government has pledged a half-million-dollar donation and is sending seven experts to aid in recovery efforts. Meanwhile, continued rains are forecast for another two weeks, generating fears the worst is ahead.
Chamorro emerged from her hospital room in Lima on Wednesday evening to recount her ordeal, her voice fluttering in frustration as she described her desperate pleas for help that went unanswered for half an hour.
The farming couple had just dropped their two daughters off at school when Chamorro heard a noise and went outside to investigate. As she clung to a trunk against the mudslide, she prayed to God for strength and thought about her children.
“What will become of their lives without a mother and father?” she told herself.
It wasn’t the first time Chamorro came face-to-face with a current stronger than herself. She was born near the fast-moving Amazonas river and from the time she was little learned to swim. But on Wednesday, March 15, her long black hair got stuck in the mud and it started to push her under.
She raised her head to scream for help, but said no one heard her.
“God,” she said she prayed. “Give me the strength to escape.”