A river of boiling lava has come to a halt on the outskirts of Goma, sparing the city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo from disaster after the night-time 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 up houses, heading towards Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu.
The military governor of North Kivu province said the city was spared after the lava halted near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma.
Five people were killed in accidents during the evacuations, said Gen Constant Ndima, who was appointed governor early this month when the province was placed under a “state of siege” to combat violence by armed groups.
“Several thefts from shops and an attempted escape of inmates” from the city’s prison were reported, but “the situation is under control”, he added.
Thousands had fled their homes during the night and many families slept on pavements surrounded by their belongings under a night sky turned red by fire and fumes. About a dozen earth tremors were felt in the early hours.
Ndima said around 7,000 people had fled to neighbouring Rwanda, but had begun to return early on Sunday. Others who sought refuge in the Sasisi region to the south-west were also are beginning to return to the city centre, Egli ha detto.
Goma appeared relatively calm as dawn broke, but people said they were still wary. “The situation seems to have calmed down for the moment,” one resident said. “But people are still scared. The authorities still haven’t made any official announcement so far this morning.”
“There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain,” another resident, Carine Mbala, disse. “People are wondering whether the volcano has stopped, or whether it will continue, whether the lava will reappear,” added another.
A few cars were on seen on the streets, but no police or military presence was visible.
“We’re not convinced that the eruption is over in just a day. We’re waiting,” said one man.
The communications minister, Patrick Muyaya, said on Saturday that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was “discussing the urgent measures to take at present”.
Gen Ndima said Monusco, the UN mission in the country, NGOs and international organisations in the DRC would hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday with local and regional authorities to discuss the crisis.
The first departures from Goma city came even before the official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted at about 7pm on Saturday, spewing red fumes into the night sky.
Power was already cut in large parts of the city when hundreds of residents began leaving their homes. Some headed out of the southern end of Goma towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighbouring Congolese region of Masisi.
In a report on 10 Maggio, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.
The last time Nyiragongo erupted was on 17 gennaio 2002, killing more than 100 people and covering almost all of the eastern part of Goma with lava, including half of the airport’s landing strip. During that eruption, the victims were mostly sick or elderly abandoned to their fate in the northern districts of the city, with some looting also taking place.
Richard Bahati, a resident, said he was very worried about the eruption. Egli ha detto: “I lived through this volcano problem in 2002. The volcano had devastated all our homes and all our possessions. That’s why I’m scared again this time.”