A boiling river of lava came to a stop on the outskirts of Goma, saving the city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from disaster after the nighttime eruption of Mount Nyiragongo sent thousands of terrified residents fleeing in panic.
Fire and strong fumes emanated from the blackish molten rock as it swallowed the houses, heading towards Goma Airport on the shores of Lake Kivu.
The military governor of North Kivu province said the city was saved after the lava stopped near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma.
Five people were killed in accidents during evacuations, said General Constant Ndima, who was appointed governor earlier this month when the province was placed under a “state of siege” to combat violence by armed groups.
“Several robberies in shops and an attempted escape of inmates were reported” from the city jail, but “the situation is under control,” he added.
Thousands had fled their homes overnight and many families slept on the sidewalks surrounded by their belongings under a night sky reddened by fire and smoke. About a dozen earth tremors were felt in the first hours.
Ndima said that around 7,000 people had fled to neighboring Rwanda, but had started to return early on Sunday. Others who sought refuge in the Sasisi region to the southwest are also beginning to return to the city center, he said.
Goma seemed relatively calm when it dawned, but people said they were still suspicious. “The situation appears to have calmed down for the time being,” said one resident. But people are still afraid. The authorities have not yet made any official announcement so far this morning. “
“There is a smell of sulfur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain, ”said another resident, Carine Mbala. “People wonder if the volcano stopped, or if it will continue, if the lava will reappear,” added another.
Some cars were seen on the streets, but no police or military presence was seen.
“We are not convinced that the eruption was over in just one day. We are waiting, ”said one man.
Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya said on Saturday that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was “discussing the urgent measures to be taken at present.”
General Ndima said that Monusco, the UN mission in the country, NGOs and international organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday with local and regional authorities to discuss the crisis.
The first departures from the city of Goma came even before official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted around 7 p.m. Saturday, spewing red fumes into the night sky.
Power was already cut off in much of the city as hundreds of residents began to flee their homes. Some headed from the southern tip of Goma towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighboring Congolese region of Masisi.
In a May 10 report, the Goma Volcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.
The last time Nyiragongo erupted was on January 17, 2002, killing more than 100 people and covering almost the entire eastern part of Goma in lava, including half of the airport’s runway. During that eruption, the victims were mostly the sick or elderly left to their own devices in the northern districts of the city, and some looting also took place.
Richard Bahati, a resident, said he was very concerned about the eruption. He said: “I went through this volcano problem in 2002. The volcano had devastated all of our homes and all of our possessions. That is why I am afraid again this time. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism