May 18, 2022

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DR Congo volcano leaves wreckage, but city spared

A smoking trail of lava from a volcanic eruption covered hundreds of houses in eastern Congo on Sunday, leaving residents to pick gingerly through the wreckage for belongings and loved ones, though the flow halted just short of the city of Goma.

Goma was thrown into panic on Saturday evening as Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active and dangerous volcanoes, erupted, turning the night sky an eerie red and sending a wall of orange lava downhill towards the lakeside city of about two million people.

The volcano, located 10km (six miles) from Goma, last erupted in 2002, killing 250 people and making 120,000 homeless. Residents started leaving their houses even before the government announced an evacuation plan. Rwandan authorities said more than 3,000 people had officially crossed from Goma.

More than 170 children were still feared missing on Sunday and UNICEF officials said they were organising transit centres to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.

As the sun rose yesterday, a smoldering black gash could be seen on the outskirts of Goma, where the lava had cooled to rubble. At some points it was three stories high, engulfing even large buildings and sending smoke into the gray morning sky.

Residents in the Buhene District sorted through the mangled white remains of tin roofs or lifted rocks — tiny individual efforts in what is likely to be a months-long campaign to restore the zone.

Elsewhere, groups of people posed for photographs on the cooling lava.

It was not immediately clear if anyone had died, or how widespread the material damage was.

“We hope that in time this will end. And by God’s grace it is over,” said one resident in Kibati, about 15km north of Goma.

Nyiragongo’s previous eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is considered among the most dangerous. Saturday’s eruption appears to have been caused when fractures opened in the volcano’s side, causing lava flows in various directions.

The flow toward Goma appeared to have stopped a few hundred meters from the city limits, one Reuters reporter said.

The nearby airport was untouched.

A separate lava flow that headed east over unpopulated terrain toward Rwanda also appeared to have stopped, the reporter said.

Lava crossed a main road out of Goma, cutting if off from cities to the north. Traffic was in gridlock in most places as people tried to leave or return to assess the damage to their homes.

“Local authorities who have been monitoring the eruption overnight report that the lava flow has lost intensity,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya wrote on Twitter yesterday.

Volcanologists at the OVG, which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to make basic checks on a regular basis since the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations, although experts said that the timing of this eruption was impossible to predict.

“We’ve been extremely lucky that it was very brief,” said Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in Goma. “From the little information we have, it was just the lava within the crater that came out, there was no additional lava from below.”