Over 400,000 people have fled and others evacuated the battered Goma city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over fears of another volcanic eruption.
This followed warnings from local authorities that Mount Nyiragongo could erupt again anytime after killing 32 people and leaving thousands homeless during when the volcano spewed lava over the surrounding areas last week. Mount Nyirangongo, Africa’s most active volcano is located just 10 km from Goma.
Before the second warning, those who had fled the city initially had started returning from the neighbouring Rwanda across the border where they had gone to seek safety.
More than 200 aftershocks have so far rattled the area since the first eruption destroying several buildings and leaving two long cracks appearing in the ground.
According to UN estimates, Goma’s population is about 670,000 people though several nongovernment organizations in the region put this number close to 1 million.
Following last week’s eruption, series of earthquakes and tremors have been experienced in the area with some felt as far as Kigali, Rwandan capital, 65 miles away from the Volcano which is part of the Virunga National Park.
Damage from last week’s eruption
In addition to the 32 people who were killed, several buildings including homes, roads, and farms have been destroyed by volcanic activity while close to 400,000 have either fled or evacuated from Goma to safer areas. Many of these have crossed to Rwanda to the border city of Gisenyi where authorities have directed them to a former refugee camp and a secondary school.
Residents of Gisenyi themselves have also fled the town going eastwards deeper into Rwanda as earthquakes and tremors continue to shake the city. According to Rwanda authorities, the reported earthquake reached 4.9 magnitude on Thursday.
Hundreds of houses and forests on the edges of Goma were set alight by rivers of molten rock which streamed from Mount Nyiragongo as it erupted last week. One stream of flowing lava stopped close to Goma airport which caused more panic at this hub of humanitarian aid operations in the region.
According to Unicef, UN’s children agency, over 530 missing children were rescued after being separated from their parents during the eruption.
History of Mount Nyiragongo eruptions
Prior to last week’s eruption, Mount Nyiragongo had last erupted in 2002 killing 250 people while 120,000 were left homeless. The volcano’s deadliest eruption happened in 1977 when more than 600 people were killed.
Goma at the centre of natural and humanitarian calamities
The city of Goma located in the north Kivu region of eastern DRC, near the border with Rwanda has for decades been troubled by both natural and civil disasters. The city has for long been destabilised by civil conflicts between government troops and several rebel groups including ADF and M23 which have left thousands of people dead and others displaced.
The conflicts have affected both human and wildlife with some of the militia groups operating in forests which are part of the protected area of Virunga National Park. Rebels have on several occasions killed park rangers and sometimes tourists have also been killed or abducted paralysing tourism activity in the park. The park has on several occasions been closed to tourism due to security reasons with the recent one happening in early 2020.
Such conflicts coupled with natural disasters like volcanic eruptions leave Goma and the nearby areas as one of the most risky areas to live in Africa and the world at large.
Virunga National Park protects part of the population of the endangered mountain gorillas which together with Mount Nyiragongo are are the leading tourist attractions of the park. Currently, there are 8 groups of habituated gorillas that are visited by tourists in Virunga National Park. The gorilla permit at Virunga National Park is sold at $400 per person and it is the cheapest compared to $1,500 in Rwanda and $700 in Uganda.
Why is Goma frequently associated with volcanic activity
Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes is located just 10km from the city of Goma which puts the city at a very high risk whenever it erupts. Lava from the volcano usually flows towards Goma destroying some parts of the town including threatening to cover the airport sometimes.