Thousands of people rushed to flee the Congolese city of Goma on Thursday, some making their way through lava-filled landscapes after officials said a second volcanic eruption could occur any moment.
Magma, the molten rock that normally remains beneath the Earth’s crust, had been discovered beneath the city and adjacent Lake Kivu, Constant Ndima Kongba, North Kivu province’s military governor, said, citing seismic data and ground deformation data.
“Given these scientific observations, an eruption on land or under the lake cannot be ruled out at this time, and it can happen with very little or no warning,” he said.
Thirty-one people were killed Saturday night when Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, sent a wall of orange lava down the hill into the city, devastating 17 villages along the way.
The lava stopped just 300 meters from Goma Airport, the main hub for relief operations in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the city was spared, but since then hundreds of earthquakes have destroyed buildings and opened cracks in the earth.
Ten neighborhoods in the east of the city, which lay in the path of the lava from the previous eruption in 2002, had to move to Sake, about 13 miles northwest, Ndima said.
“Evacuation is mandatory. Anyone who does not act quickly carries unnecessary risks.”
Thousands of people listened to his message and left the city on foot, with huge bundles on their heads. Others fled by car, causing traffic jams in the city or on large boats taking them across Lake Kivu.
On the road north of Goma, a stream of people made their way through a landscape charred by lava still hot from Saturday’s eruption, video footage from drones showed.
“The first day I didn’t move because there were no orders, but today is different,” said Alfred Bulangalire, 42, who fled Goma on foot with his wife and four children.
“I know my shop will be looted, but I have to protect myself and my family,” he said.
Risks on the lake
A national government spokesman once said boat traffic was banned because Lake Kivu was considered dangerous, but a local governor later said it would remain more open.
Volcanologists in Goma warned earlier on Thursday that, in the worst case scenario, a volcanic eruption beneath the lake, accompanied by a major earthquake, could cause a sudden release of carbon dioxide from the bottom of the lake.
Such an explosion could suffocate thousands of people, they said.
Chiara Frisone, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said people were running in all directions.
“There are also local people and international organizations, it’s quite a chaotic situation,” she said, adding that UN emergency response teams and local partners were staying in the city.
On Wednesday, the UN said it had temporarily relocated about 250 non-essential personnel, about half of the relief workers and about 1,500 of their families to the city of Bukavu, about 50 km (30 miles) to the south.
Congo placed martial law on the region earlier this month to end the bloodshed and widespread insecurity that many people still face on a daily basis, long after the official end of a civil war in 2003.
About 3,000 homes were destroyed in Saturday’s volcanic eruption and more than 20,000 people were left homeless. At least 40 people are still missing.
Six volcanoes are scattered across the Goma region, dominated by Nyiragongo, which is 3,470 meters (11,400 feet) high, and Nyamuragira, 3,058 meters.
Nyiragongo last erupted on January 17, 2002, killing more than 100 people and covering almost the entire eastern part of Goma with lava, including half of the airport runway.
The deadliest eruption occurred in 1977, when more than 600 people died.
Nyamuragira is also very active, with its last major eruption a decade ago.
( Jowharwith REUTERS, AFP)