Thousands have fled after a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo with lava from Mount Nyiragongo reaching Goma city early Sunday.
Even before the official announcement, people had started filling the streets and carrying what they could as they headed out of the city, where the last major eruption killed 100 people.
“The situation is deteriorating,” an official from Virunga National Park, where the volcano is located, told his staff in a memo.
Meanwhile, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said he would “interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid”.
The Rwanda Broadcast Agency tweeted photos of those arriving in Rubavu district, adding they would be “accommodated in schools and places of worship that have been made ready”.
— Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) (@rbarwanda) May 23, 2021
Residents reported the smell of sulphur in the air and watched as the sky turned red.
“The eruption of Nyiragongo is similar to the eruption in 2002,” he said, asking all residents near the airport to “evacuate without delay”.
Some headed out of the southern end of the city towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighbouring Congolese region of Masisi.
“There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain.
Late Sunday electricity was cut off in a large part of the city, with thousands of people — encumbered with mattresses, food and parcels — heading towards the Rwandan border.
“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.”
Goma is home to a large contingent of peacekeepers and staff of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the country, as well as the base of many NGOs and international organisations.
In a May 10 report, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.
During that eruption, the victims were mostly sick or elderly abandoned to their fate in the northern districts of the city with some looting also taking place.