GOMA: A river of red-hot lava came to a halt on the outskirts of Goma on Sunday, sparing the city in eastern DR Congo from disaster after the nighttime eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano sent thousands of terrified residents fleeing in panic.
Fire and fumes emanated from the blackish molten rock as it swallowed up houses, heading towards Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu and leaving smouldering wreckage in its wake.
But the military governor of North Kivu province said “the city was spared” by a matter of a few hundred metres (yards) after “the lava halted near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma”.
Nine people were nonetheless killed in accidents during the evacuations, said General Constant Ndima, appointed governor early this month when the province was placed under a “state of siege” to combat violence by armed groups.
Another four people were shot dead while trying to escape Goma’s Munzenze prison, according to local military spokesman Guillaume Njike Kaiko.
Many families slept on pavements surrounded by their belongings under a night sky turned red by the eruption of Africa’s most active volcano. “They lost everything... hundreds of people,” one resident said.
Pope Francis offered a special prayer for Goma during his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican Sunday, when the area felt around a dozen tremors.
Ndima said 7,000 people fled overnight to neighbouring Rwanda before returning.
“All the Goma residents returned home without incident this morning after spending the night in emergency shelters which Rwanda set up, mainly schools,” said Rwanda’s minister for emergency management, Marie Solange Kayisire.
“Only about 100 of them are still in Rwanda but they are people who have cars who spent the night in hotels,” Kayisire added.
Despite a relative return to calm, Goma’s 1.5 million residents remained wary.
“There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain,” one resident, Carine Mbala, said.
Tourists who were near the crater when the volcano erupted are safe, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) tweeted, adding that the rare mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, where Mount Nyiragongo is located, were also not threatened by the eruption.
DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said he would cut short a trip to Europe “to supervise the coordination of aid”.
General Ndima said MONUSCO, the UN mission in the country, along with NGOs and international organisations in the DRC, would hold an emergency meeting on Sunday with local and regional authorities..
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021