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Thousands suffer as volcano erupts near Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

26 May 2021

ALAMY

Villagers on the outskirts of Goma, DRC, pick through the smouldering remains of homes caught in the lava flow from Mount Nyiragongo

Villagers on the outskirts of Goma, DRC, pick through the smouldering remains of homes caught in the lava flow from Mount Nyiragongo

LIVES, homes, and livelihoods have been destroyed by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano six miles (10km) from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on Saturday, Christian humanitarian agencies report.

At least 32 people have died, including many from the inhalation of toxic fumes, since the volcano, the most active in Africa, erupted in the early hours. Hundreds of people are still missing, including 170 children, UNICEF reports. Christian Aid reported on Tuesday that more than 400 children had been separated from their families, of whom 266 have since been reunited.

Twenty villages had been in the path of the lava flow; 3629 homes were destroyed, displacing about 25,000 people. Three health facilities and 12 schools were also consumed. Violent aftershocks continued over the weekend and into the week.

The eastern-zone director for World Vision, David Munkley, said on Tuesday that the charity’s team were experiencing “unpredictable and disheartening times” in the city.

“The lava destroyed homes and property and covered up crop land, leaving thousands of families fraught and confused. Thankfully, the flow of lava stopped in the early hours of Sunday morning, but the ensuing tremors are unnerving. Many people cannot sleep in their houses, children are terrified, and even worse is the fear as to whether the tremors imply another lava outburst.”

He continued: “Agencies are rushing to help, in a situation that remains fragile. Shelter, food, and water are critical needs at this time, and so we are exploring a partnership with the World Food Programme to reach 30,000 people with much-needed food. Government and UN scientists continue surveillance and analysis of volcano and tremor activity, though this has been difficult because of visibility impairment and ash over the volcano.”

World Vision was advising residents to be vigilant about the structural safety of buildings and what to do if the tremors intensified. “We are hoping for the best, but are preparing for the worst.”

The country director for Tearfund, Hebdavi Muhindo, said on Monday that, while the slow-flowing lava had stopped just a few hundred metres short of the city limits of Goma, with a population of about two million, thousands of residents had been forced to flee their homes, many towards the nearby border with Rwanda.

“The extent of the damage is still being assessed,” she said, “but, from what we’ve seen so far, hundreds of households have been destroyed, affecting as many as 7000 people, who have lost everything they own.

“The lava was relatively slow-flowing, but has still caused a lot of damage to homes and livelihoods. Hospitals reported a very high number of traffic-accident casualties on Saturday night as people rushed to evacuate.”

Tearfund staff were working to assess and meet the needs of displaced people. “We are also concerned about children who got lost or got separated from their parents in the midst of the panic and now need to be reunited with their families.”

The head of humanitarian work at Christian Aid, Michael Mosselmans, expressed relief on Monday that the damage to the population heart of Goma, where the aid agency has an office, was not as severe had first been feared.

“Thankfully, all our staff are reported safe. Christian Aid has several partner organisations working in the affected areas, and over the coming days we will assess the needs of those whose homes and livelihoods have been damaged, and assess what we can do best to respond.”

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