Goma, DR Congo: Thousands of people have fled a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the fiery lava from Mount Nyiragongo appeared to have come to a halt early Sunday on the outskirts of Goma city.
The molten rock that the eruption had sent flying close to Goma airport on the beaches of Lake Kivu remained unstable, but had came to a halt in the eastern city’s suburbs, according to an AFP correspondent on the scene.
In the early hours of the morning, a dozen of tremors were felt.
“People are beginning to return to their homes. 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,” he added.
Thousands of people had evacuated during the night, and many families slept on the streets, surrounded by their things, under a night sky that had been stained red by fire and pollutants.
“There is a smell of sulfur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain,” one resident, Carine Mbala, told AFP.
Officials claimed the lava had reached the Goma city airport, while residents claimed it had halted at the facility’s boundary.
As daylight broke, Goma appeared comparatively tranquil, but residents said they are still concerned.
‘I’m not convinced it’s over’
“People are wondering whether the volcano has stopped, or whether it will continue, whether the lava will reappear,” one resident said.
There were a few cars on the streets, but there was no police or military presence.
“We’re not convinced that the eruption is over in just a day. We’re waiting,” said one man.
Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya announced on Saturday that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was “discussing the immediate measures to take.”
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 22, 2021
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi had said that he will “stop his stay in Europe this Sunday to return home to supervise relief coordination.”
According to Rwanda’s official television, between 5,000 and 7,000 refugees had arrived in the country by early Sunday.
The Rwanda Broadcast Agency posted photographs of those arriving in the Rubavu area on Twitter but stated early Sunday that the evacuees had already started returning home.
“At the moment, the Congolese who had evacuated into Rwanda because of the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption are returning to their homeland. It appears that the eruption has stopped,” it tweeted.
Even before official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted at around 7:00 p.m. Saturday, blasting red fumes into the night sky, the first departures from Goma city began.
‘I’m terrified once more’
When hundreds of inhabitants began abandoning their houses, power had already been disconnected in major portions of the city.
Some left the city’s southern outskirts for the nearby Rwandan border station, while others proceeded west to Sake, in the neighboring Congolese district of Masisi.
Resident Richard Bahati said he was incredibly worried about the eruption: “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.”
Thousands of people, laden with beds, food, and gifts, fled to the Rwandan border after their electricity was shut off in vast parts of the city.
“There are a lot of people on the road, a lot of cars, it’s an escape,” one man with his family in his car told AFP.
“It is moving at a snail’s pace, on three or four lanes,” he said, adding: “There are children, women, old people who are on foot and the rain is coming. It’s complicated.”
The most recent flights
Goma is home to a sizable force of UN peacekeepers and MONUSCO workers, as well as the headquarters of a number of NGOs and international organizations.
According to an airport source, many planes belonging to Monusco and private enterprises took off in the evening, with a local adding that they had also witnessed the unusual midnight activity.
Mount Nyiragongo volcano, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted on May 22nd, 2021 causing evacuation plans to be activated.
The volcano last erupted in January 2002, leaving more than 100,000 people homeless and hundreds dead.
— NBS Television (@nbstv) May 23, 2021
The Goma Vulcanology Observatory cautioned on May 10 that seismic activity around the volcano had escalated and that it needed to be closely monitored.
The last time Nyiragongo erupted was on January 17, 2002, when it killed over a hundred people and engulfed practically all of Goma in lava, including half of the airport’s landing strip.
During the eruption, the victims were largely sick or elderly people who were left to their fate in the city’s northern sections, with some looting as well.