Volcano erupts in eastern Congo, thousands flee Goma

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Lava from a volcanic eruption reached the airport of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma on Saturday, as thousands evacuated the city.

Goma residents, recalling Mount Nyiragongo’s last eruption in 2002, which killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless, grabbed mattresses and other belongings.

As the red glow of the volcano, one of the world’s most active, tinged the nighttime sky above the lakeside city of about 2 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.

Congolese residents of Goma gather at Rond Point Cercle to flee from erupting Mount Nyamulagira and Mount Nyiragongo part of the Virunga National Park in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 May 2021. One of the planets most active volcanoes Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo erupted causing evacuations in some parts of Goma. Initial reports from scientists predict the city is not in danger from the lava. EPA-EFE/HUGH KINSELLA CUNNINGHAM

“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 U.N. aircraft had been evacuated to the city of Bukavu to the south and Entebbe in neighbouring Uganda.

Congolese residents of Goma flee from Mount Nyiragongo volcano as it erupts over Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 May 2021. One of the planets most active volcanoes Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo erupted causing evacuations in some parts of Goma. Initial reports from scientists predict the city is not in danger from the lava. EPA-EFE/HUGH KINSELLA CUNNINGHAM

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.

“We hope that the measures that have been taken this evening will allow the population to reach the points that were indicated to them in this (evacuation) plan,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in comments broadcast on national television.

Volcano watchers have been worried that the volcanic activity observed in the last five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.

A general view of erupting Mount Nyiragongo over Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 May 2021. One of the planets most active volcanoes Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo erupted causing evacuations in some parts of Goma. Initial reports from scientists predict the city is not in danger from the lava. EPA-EFE/HUGH KINSELLA CUNNINGHAM

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. (Reporting by Djafar Al Katanty in Goma and Hereward Holland in Kinshasa; Additional reporting by Olivia Acland in Goma and Fiston Mahamba in Gisenyi, Rwanda; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Leslie Adler and Andrea Ricci)

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