After thousands of panicked residents fled in panic, the Nyiragongo volcano erupted overnight and caused a river of hot lava to flow towards the city of East Democratic Republic of Congo.
As the blackish molten rocks sucked up houses, it released fire and fumes that sent smoldering debris into the air.
Residents began to return to their homes cautiously, despite multiple seismic shocks. The death toll reached 15, although most were not directly affected by the eruption.
According to the military governor of North Kivu, “the city was spared” because “lava stopped near Buhene, on the outskirts Goma”.
However, nine people died in accidents while evacuating, according to General Constant Ndima who was appointed governor when the province was under “state of siege” due to violence by armed groups.
Guillaume Njike Kaiko, a local military spokesperson, said that four more people were killed trying to escape Goma’s Munzenze prison.
Patrick Muyaya, a spokesperson for the government, stated that two bodies with burned remains had been discovered.
UNICEF stated however that at most five deaths were directly linked to the eruption and that more than 170 children may be missing.
The UN children’s agency said that more than 150 children were also separated from their families.
Many families slept on Saturday night, surrounded by their belongings, under the reddish night sky caused by Africa’s most active volcano.
One resident stated that they lost everything, hundreds of people.
After a few tremors Sunday night, hundreds of people were planning to stay another night on the streets. This was apparently without any humanitarian aid. However, Muyaya stated at a press conference, that a delegation from the government was due to arrive in the late evening.
He said, “The most important thing right now is to give aid to displaced people,” noting that President Felix Tshisekedi had shortened his European tour and was returning to Kinshasa.
Mr Tshisekedi stated earlier that he would “supervise coordination of aid.”
Ndima stated that 7000 people fled Rwanda overnight and returned to their homes the next day.
Marie Solange Kayisire, Rwanda’s minister of emergency management, stated that “all the Goma residents returned to their homes without any problems after spending the night in the emergency shelters set up by Rwanda, mainly schools.”
Despite some calmer days, Goma’s 1.5million residents remain wary.
“There is a strong smell of sulfur. Carine Mbala, a resident, said that you can see huge flames rising from the mountain in the distance.
Tourists who were close to the crater at the time of the eruption are safe, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature tweeted. They also added that the endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park (where Mount Nyiragongo is) were not in danger.
General Ndima stated that MONUSCO, the UN mission to the country, and NGOs and international organizations in the DRC would host an emergency meeting on Sunday with local and regional officials.
Even before Nyiragongo’s official confirmation at 7:45 Saturday, people fled Goma.
As the exodus began, large portions of the city were without power.
Tens of thousands of people, some carrying food, mattresses and parcels, rushed towards the Rwandan border. Others headed west to Sake in the neighboring Masisi region.
Richard Bahati, a resident, recalled the eruption of the volcano in 2002.
“The volcano destroyed all our homes and all of our possessions. He said that this is why he was scared again.
Witnesses said that fresh tremors caused a “psychosis” among the population on Sunday.
“They are major shocks. Even the well-built homes were moved.”
Nyiragongo erupted last on January 17, 2002. It killed more than 100 people, and covered almost all of eastern Goma with lava.
The victims of that eruption were mostly elderly or sick people who were left to their fate in northern parts of the city.
UN sources quoted a specialist saying that the eruption in question was “exactly” the same as the 2002 eruption, when the volcano’s lava lake was drained by fissures without any advance warning.
Nyiragongo’s 1977 deadliest eruption claimed over 600 lives. According to the head local observatory of vulcanology, it has been unmonitored for seven months due to a lack in funding.
Goma is home of a large contingent peacekeepers and MONUSCO staff, the UN mission in the nation, as well as many other NGOs and international organizations.
According to an airport source, several planes belonging to Monusco as well as private companies took off in the evening. A local added that they had also witnessed the strange night-time activity.