Thousands flee eruption in eastern Congo

DR Congo's Nyiragongo volcano flares up

Congo's Mount Nyiragongo erupted for the first time in almost two decades Saturday, turning the night sky a fiery red and sending lava onto a major highway as panicked residents tried to flee Goma, a city of almost 2 million.

"I'm wondering if I should stay or go home".

The New Times understands that officials in Rubavu District alongside a team from The Ministry of Emergency Management are now facilitating evacuees that have voluntarily expressed an interest in returning back to Ngoma, a major city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Others fled to the city center from villages and neighborhoods threatened by lava on the northern outskirts.

However, government said it was activating an evacuation plan for Goma city.

An official from Virunga National Park, where the volcano is located, said in a note to staff that the eruption was similar to the one in 2002 and that everyone near the airport should "evacuate without delay".

"We have seen the loss of nearly an entire neighbourhood", said Innocent Bahala Shamavu.

"People are wondering whether the volcano has stopped, or whether it will continue, whether the lava will reappear", one resident said.

"The volcano had devastated all our homes and all our possessions".

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A local trader, Kambere Ombeni, was among those who returned to the scene as the rubble still smouldered. The fire came right down to here. We don't even know how to behave.

"I am asking for help because everything we had is gone", she said, clutching her baby.

Tom Peyre-Costa, from the Norwegian Refugee Council in Goma, told the BBC what had happened.

"Currently, it is ascertained that the lava flow has considerably slowed down".

Aid workers say basic items like food, water and shelter are being organised for thousands of people affected by the volcanic eruption. It is one of the world's most active volcanoes and is considered among the most unsafe.

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

The summit stands at 3 470 metres (11 385 feet) and is said to contain the largest quasi permanent lava lake in the world, the level of which rises and fall from time to time.

In a May 10 report, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring of a region with six volcanos in all. But he also warned that an quake could trigger a disaster earlier.

Along with the five people found dead on Monday, at least 15 people have died, although most were not killed directly by the eruption.

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