Lava Flow Sends Thousands Fleeing

Eruption panics residents but largely spares Congo city devastated in 2002
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2021 11:10 AM CDT
Lava Flow Sends Thousands Fleeing
People gather on a stream of cold lava rock following the overnight eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, Congo, Sunday, May 23, 2021. Witnesses say Congo’s Mount Nyiragongo volcano unleashed lava that destroyed homes on the outskirts of Goma but the city of nearly 2 million was mostly spared after...   (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

A volcano eruption in eastern Congo triggered evacuations, with about 8,000 people fleeing to Rwanda, as lava flows neared the major city of Goma. The flows slowed overnight, stopping just before reaching the city of 2 million, officials reported, and the Rwandan emergency agency said the evacuees were going back home Sunday, CNN reports. At least five people were killed in a crash trying to out of town, per the AP. "Panic spread as we were in contact with the residents of the north of the city," one man said, "who from their roofs could see the path of the lava as it made its way to the airport." Mount Nyiragongo's last eruption was in 2002, when hundreds of people were killed and more than 100,000 were left homeless. The lava covered runways then but did not reach the airport this weekend. A highway out of Goma was covered.

Some of the refugees had walked to Rwanda but found the border closed. They then went to an area north of Goma. "Everywhere in the city you see people walking with their belongings, their children and even their goats and whatever they could grab," an international refugee official said. Others got in boats on Lake Kivu. The government was slow to broadcast information about the lava flow or where evacuees should go, per the Washington Post. "Information was circulating in all directions,” one man said. And there was no warning before the sky went red, sparking the panic. Government officials said that they had no death toll but that 500 homes were destroyed. On Sunday, lava in Buhene, near Goma, was smoldering. One resident asked for government assistance, saying, "All the houses in Buhene neighborhood were burned." (Read more volcano eruption stories.)

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