DR Congo’s Mount Nyiragongo erupts, sparks mass evacuation

People in the Democratic Republic of Congo are returning to scenes of devastation after a large volcano erupted.

Mount Nyiragongo turned the sky red and spewed out a river of lava when it erupted yesterday (Saturday).

Thousands of people fled Goma, a city of two million people just south of the volcano, overnight.

There are some reports of five deaths during the evacuation process, though this has not been officially confirmed.

It is unclear if anyone died in the eruption itself, but houses have been lost north of the city.

As the lava moved slowly, many people had time to leave the area.

The volcano, located 10km (six miles) from Goma, last erupted in 2002, killing 250 people and making 120,000 homeless.

Communications Minister Patrick Muyay said the government was having a second emergency meeting this (Sunday) afternoon.

He also said seismic tremors had been felt in the area in the aftermath. “People are advised to remain vigilant, avoid non-essential travel, and follow directions,” he tweeted.

Some locals had complained about the lack of information from the authorities during the eruption.

Crowds were seen with mattresses and other belongings, fleeing even before the government’s announcement, which came several hours after the eruption started.

One Goma resident, Richard Bahati, said he was in his house when he heard screaming and became extremely worried as he saw the sky reddening outside.

“I lived through the problem with this volcano in 2002. The volcano devastated all our homes and possessions,” he said.

Meanwhile, some younger residents saw the volcano erupt for the first time.

Student Aline Kanyere said she had studied it and that it was talked about all the time, yet it had been shocking to see it burst into action. “We’re all shaking,” she said.

A local trader, Kambere Ombeni, was among those who returned to the scene this afternoon as the rubble still smouldered.

“We watched the whole neighbourhood in the Nyiragongo territory go up in smoke. The fire came right down to here. Even now we can still see lava,” he said.

Another resident, Irene Bauma, said people would need help from the government to rebuild their lives.

“There’s land, people, a population that has lost everything, maybe there are also deaths, who knows? We are asking the government to come and help the survivors of this eruption.”

Tom Peyre-Costa, from the Norwegian Refugee Council in Goma, told the BBC how the scene had unfolded.

“The lava was pretty slow, like, one kilometre per hour, but it didn’t stop…. It started burning the houses,” he said, adding that humanitarian organisations were already trying to address people’s needs.

Overnight, many residents headed across the nearby Rwandan border, while others went to higher ground to the west of the city.

Rwandan authorities said that about 3,000 people had officially crossed from Goma. The country’s state media said they would be accommodated in schools and places of worship.

Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s more active volcanoes but there were concerns that its activity had not been properly observed by the Goma Volcano Observatory, since the World Bank cut funding amid allegations of corruption.

Professor Mike Burton, a volcanologist at the University of Manchester in England, told the BBC the lava in Mount Nyiragongo is particularly fluid and has the potential to move fast.

In a report on 10 May, the observatory warned that seismic activity at Nyiragongo had increased.

Last year, the observatory’s director, Katcho Karume, told the BBC World Service’s Science in Action that the volcano’s lava lake had been filling up quickly, increasing the chances of an eruption in the next few years. But he also warned that an earthquake could trigger a disaster earlier.

The volcano’s deadliest eruption happened in 1977, when more than 600 people died.

BBC

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