Congo volcano leaves death and smoking wreckage but major city spared
On 22 May 2021, Mount Nyiragongo, in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) next to the Rwanda border, suddenly erupted, resulting in lava flows in several directions, including towards the city of Goma. Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most active and dangerous volcanoes. This sudden volcanic eruption created panic within the population, leading to mass movements towards the towns of Sake, Bukavu and across the Rwandan border. At least 21 000 people saw their houses destroyed. 31 people reportedly died. When the eruption started, hundreds of children simply ran away and were separated from their families. Most have been reunited but at least 74 children have been put into foster care or in transit centres, where they also receive psychosocial support.
On 27 May 2021, the Congolese authorities ordered the evacuation of parts of Goma, as seismic activity continued.
Hundreds of thousands are moving towards the cities of Saké and Bukavu, as well as the Rubavu district just across the border in Rwanda. The situation on the ground remains fluid. At least 140 earthquakes of a magnitude up to 4,8M have been recorded in the area, including in Rwanda, since Mount Nyiragongo started erupting.
The eruption was caused when fractures opened in the volcano’s side, causing lava flows in various directions.
The flow towards Goma stopped a few hundred metres from the city limits. The nearby airport was untouched. A separate lava flow that headed east over unpopulated terrain towards Rwanda also appeared to have stopped.
As the sun rose on Sunday a smouldering black gash about half a mile wide could be seen on the outskirts of Goma, where the lava had cooled to rubble. At some points it was three storeys high, engulfing even large buildings and sending smoke into the grey morning sky.
Haunted by memories of an eruption in 2002 that killed 250 people and left 120 000 homeless, residents fled on foot with their belongings, some towards the nearby border with Rwanda. The International Federation of Red Cross said that between 3 000 and 5 000 fled into Rwanda on Saturday, many of them peasants and farmers with livestock. Some began returning on Sunday.
Residents in the Buhene district sorted through the mangled white remains of tin roofs or lifted rocks, tiny individual efforts in what will likely be a months-long campaign to restore the zone.
“Local authorities who have been monitoring the eruption overnight report that the lava flow has lost intensity,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter on Sunday. Still, authorities warned that the danger was not over and that seismic activity in the area could cause further lava flows.
Lava crossed a main road out of Goma overnight, cutting it off from cities to the north. Traffic was in gridlock in most places as people tried to leave or return to assess the damage to their homes.
Experts were worried that the volcanic activity observed in the past five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.
Volcanologists at the OVG, which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to make basic checks on a regular basis since the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations.
The European Commission has allocated emergency humanitarian funding of €2 million for those affected by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo.
Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said, “Although the situation remains fluid and the full extent of the damage is not yet known, it is already clear that the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo and the continuing seismic activity has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in and around Goma. Parts of the city had to be evacuated. Its water supply system has also suffered serious damage. The emergency funding will be used to respond to the immediate needs of the affected people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Rwanda.”
Priority sectors to be covered include emergency water supply and rehabilitation of water supply (the latter in Goma), sanitation and hygiene measures, first aid/health services (including support to health facilities), psychosocial support, child protection and family reunion.
This funding is in addition to the €160 000 allocated last week in support of the Congolese Red Cross society.
Sources: Reuters, Relief Web
Photos: Jan Abraham Nel Augustyn