Thousands of residents are fleeing their homes in the Congolese city of Goma as a nearby volcano spews lava and super-heated gases across the nearby terrain.
Lava from Mount Nyiragongo has reached the airport of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, further accelerating the rush to safety.
Recalling Nyiragongo’s last eruption in 2002, which killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless, a spontaneous legion of evacuees took to the roads carrying mattresses and whatever valuables could be carried on their backs.
As the red glow of the volcano, one of the world’s most active, tinged the Saturday night sky above the lakeside city of about two million, some fled east toward the frontier with neighbouring Rwanda, while others escaped to the west.
Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in Goma, said new fractures were opening in Nyiragongo, allowing the lava to flow southward toward Goma after initially flowing east toward Rwanda.
“Now Goma is the target,” Tedesco told Reuters. “It’s similar to 2002. I think that the lava is going towards the city centre.”
“It might stop before or go on. It’s difficult to forecast,” he said.
A United Nations source said all UN aircraft had been moved to the city of Bukavu to the south and Entebbe in neighbouring Uganda.
Mt. Nyiragongo in Goma, (eastern) DRC erupts as we speak. What a crazy volcano… pic.twitter.com/MYodnf98WU
— Martin L. Kalere 🇨🇩 (@Kalereops) May 22, 2021
Power was also out across much of Goma and phone lines were busy.
In Kinshasa, the capital, Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, convened an emergency meeting, where the government activated an evacuation plan for Goma.
Volcano watchers have been worried that the volcanic activity observed in the past five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.
Volcanologists at the Goma Volcano Observatory, which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to make basic checks on a regular basis since the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations.
In a bulletin on May 10, the observatory said there had been increased seismic activity at Nyiragongo earlier in the month.
– with AAP