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Volcanic eruption sends tens of thousands fleeing

Country Map - DRC (Goma)
Tens of thousands flee Goma, DRC (IRIN)

Tens of thousands of people have fled the eastern Congolese city of Goma following a volcanic eruption on Thursday, 10 km from the town, a representative from the United Nations Regional Support Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IRIN on Friday.

Mt Nyiragongo began to spill early on Thursday on its eastern, western and southern flanks flowing towards Goma, its airport, and nearby residential areas, Radio Rwanda reported on Thursday. A flow of up to two metres of lava had spewed down the mountainsides, through cracks in its flanks, sweeping away at least 14 villages in its path, news agencies reported. Various agencies reported on Friday that at least 45 had died.

A representative of the international aid organisation, World Vision, told IRIN on Friday that Goma had been completely destroyed. She said between 300,000 and 350,000 people had fled and were expected to in the northwestern Rwandan town of Gisenyi, near the border.

"The air is full of ash, there is no water, people haven't eaten, and are suffering from respiratory problems and diarrhoea," she added.

Lava was still flowing on Friday and earth tremors occurred at regular intervals, a representative of the regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said. "If anything, the situation got worse today," he added.

World Vision and Save the Children, both international aid organisations with bases in Goma, had their offices burnt to the ground, as well as a warehouse belonging to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), sources told IRIN on Friday.

Apart from the immediate health hazards, there are also fears that toxic gasses from the crater could pollute the air and drinking water, and that ash and acid rain could lead to long-term damage of crops in the area, a representative from the Disaster Response Unit of InterAction confirmed.

A United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination team of specialists in volcano eruptions - a joint effort of the UN and the the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office - and a team of vulcanologists are due in Gisenyi at the weekend to assess the situation, a representative from OCHA told IRIN. The IFRCS was sending 65 mt of water purifying equipment, she added.

The Nyiragongo volcano is one of eight on the borders of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. Only two of these are still active: The Nyamuragira, which erupted in 2001 causing no casualties, and Nyiragongo, which last erupted on 10 January 1977, killing scores of people in less than half an hour.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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