By Norman Isaac Mwambazi
Lava from a volcanic eruption approached the airport of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma late on Saturday, and the government urged residents to evacuate.
As the red glow of Mount Nyiragongo tinged the night sky above the lakeside city of about 2 million, thousands of Goma residents, carrying mattresses and other belongings fled the city on foot – many toward the frontier with Rwanda.
Nyiragongo’s last eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is considered among the most dangerous.
Rwanda’s Ministry in Charge of Emergency Management said more than 3,500 Congolese have crossed the border. Rwandan state media said they would be lodged in schools and places of worship.
New fractures were opening in the volcano, letting lava flow south toward the city after initially flowing east toward Rwanda, said Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in Goma.
“Now Goma is the target. It is similar to 2002. I think that the lava is going towards the city centre. It might stop before or go on. It’s difficult to forecast,” Tedesco said.
Emmanuel De Merode, head of Virunga National Park, asked park employees in parts of Goma to evacuate. He said lava had reached the international airport on the eastern edge of the city but that it was not likely to reach other parts of Goma.
Celestin Kasereka, head of scientific research at the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG), told reporters he did not think the lava was flowing fast enough to reach Goma.
A United Nations source said all UN aircraft had been evacuated to the city of Bukavu to the south and Entebbe in Uganda. The power was also out across much of Goma.
Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde convened an emergency meeting in the capital, Kinshasa, where the government activated an evacuation plan for Goma.
“We hope that the measures that have been taken this evening will allow the population to reach the points that were indicated to them in this plan,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in comments broadcast on national television.
President Felix Tshisekedi will cut short a trip to Europe to return to Congo today, the presidency said on Twitter.
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