Thousands of residents in Goma, a major city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, are spending the night outdoors following eruption of Mount Nyiragongo earlier Saturday, according to a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“There has not been a massive panic movement, but people are really worried,” said Tom Peyre-Costa, the council’s spokesman for west and central Africa.
Evacuees first walked towards Rwanda, Peyre-Costa told CNN. The border was closed, so they went back to Goma and headed to an area north of the city. Peyre-Costa posted to Twitter video of people leaving the city
“Everywhere in the city you see people walking with their belongings, their children and even their goats and whatever they could grab. Most of them are just sitting by the road waiting to be able to go back any time soon,” Peyre-Costa said.
The volcanic eruption seems to have subsided, according to the Goma Volcano Observatory, which monitors the volcano. Authorities in the city activated an evacuation plan as a precaution.
The volcano’s last major eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and displaced thousands.
Goma is on the edge of Lake Kivu on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border with Rwanda. The current metro area population of Goma in 2021 is 670,000, according to a projection by the UN, World Bank and others.
Peyre-Costa said a number of nongovernmental organizations in the region believe Goma’s population is closer to 1 million.
Patrick Kakesa of the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) said in a statement at 11 p.m. that the lava appears to be flowing towards the border with Rwanda.
“In the event of an evacuation, customs between Goma and Gisenyi are closed overnight,” he said.
INSO advised humanitarian workers living in the Munigi camp a short distance from northern Goma to move to villages further to the west.
Peyre-Costa and 11 of his colleague evacuated as a precaution.
“If the situation stays the same we may be able to return tonight, so we’ll see. We are on standby. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Volcanologist Honore Chiraba of the Goma Volcano Observatory told CNN there are two fractures in the volcano. Chiraba is following the volcanic activity closely with the governor of North Kivu, the province where the city of Goma is located.
“The lava is flowing but not very fast,” Chiraba said. “At this stage we don’t think anyone is injured but we can’t know for sure.”
A post on the verified Twitter account of the British Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday, “Nyiragongo volcano, close to city of Goma, began erupting this evening. Current assessments indicate eruption doesn’t threaten the city itself. All should remain vigilant & Brits concerned should reach out to us … We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
The 11,500-foot-high volcano is one of several near the DRC’s border with Rwanda and Uganda, an area of tropical rain forest and rare mountain gorillas.