Goma, DR Congo: Fears of looting have gripped Goma, a city in eastern DR Congo where residents fled last week after warnings that the deadly Mount Nyiragongo volcano was on the verge of a cataclysmic second eruption.
Home and store looting have been recorded by holdouts following the exodus, however, the phenomenon appears to be less widespread than when Nyiragongo last erupted 19 years ago.
Around two-thirds of Goma’s 600,000 people fled, many of them to Sake, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the west, or Gisenyi, the Rwandan border town to the east.
“There were burglaries overnight,” said Augustin Kambale, an inhabitant of Buehene, a district in northern Goma where a lava flow from Nyiragongo came to halt on May 23, less than a day after the volcano awoke.
“Thieves got into our place. They broke down the door and the window. They looted the television, tables, everything,” he said.
“We came home and found just a few clothes still lying on the floor,” Kambale said.
“The same thing happened opposite us — a store was completely looted.”
In Mapendo, a district abutting the Rwandan border, local youth leader George Rwagaza said “there’s been no lack of isolated burglaries, although we haven’t noted any major losses.”
He added that thanks to stepped-up patrols by security forces, “there is a certain sense of security”.
Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active and feared volcano, is about a dozen kilometers (nine miles) away from Goma.
Lava poured like a river throughout the city when it erupted in 2002, eventually ending in Lake Kivu.
During that eruption, looting was prevalent, and many of the 100 or so individuals who died were killed as a result of the looting.
When contacted by AFP, police officials refused to provide any additional information other than to state that security troops had been sent.
Last Wednesday, the military governor, General Constant Ndima, issued the evacuation order.
He alluded to concerns about a possible catastrophic eruption beneath Lake Kivu.
Ndima asserted that troops and police would “protect” evacuated regions.
After the volcano’s outburst on May 23, 32 individuals perished from lava burns or asphyxiation, and two more perished in accidents during the evacuation.
Residents in the districts of Buhene, Bujumbu, and Murara reported police presence was sporadic during the day and at night.
Citizens have formed their own surveillance in some regions.
“Some young people have been staying behind in homes. People fled but they’ve left someone to keep an eye on the property, which explains why there have been fewer burglaries than in 2002,” a local leader said.
“The crime rate in Goma is relatively high in normal times and there has been looting in the last few days,” said a senior official with an NGO.
“But local people have got together to have young people stay behind to keep an eye out.”
“The situation is critical in some areas,” said a young man in the Trois Lampes district, tending to his aging mother who refused to leave her home.
“You see people you don’t know going around among the empty houses. I go on patrol with friends, with machetes and knives. When police meet us at night, they give us a word of encouragement.”
Plaice Nzilamba, a North Kivu civil society leader, warned about the dangers of vigilante punishment.
“Brigades of young people have sprung up to apprehend criminals,” he said. “But unfortunately, some of them have been finishing off the thieves they catch.”
Troops with MONUSCO, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC, are helping out by staging joint patrols with national security forces, MONUSCO’s bureau chief in Goma, Omar Aboud, told AFP.
Security at night The lack of electricity has heightened concerns, as a high-voltage cable was knocked down by the lava flow.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF ZYTE NEWS VIA TWITTER