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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Congo volcano 'kills dozens'
Goma residents flee from lava
Goma people were caught out by the fast-flowing lava
Dozens of people are feared dead after a river of molten rock poured from a volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

United Nations officials estimate that 45 people have died in the 24 hours since red-hot lava began pouring out of Mount Nyiragongo down through the eastern town of Goma and on into Lake Kivu, which straddles the Rwandan border.


This is going to be a human catastrophe

UN official
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Goma area - a part of the country controlled by rebel forces - were forced to flee into Rwanda to escape the lava flow.

And the authorities there are struggling to cope with the huge influx of people.

Sleeping in streets

The Rwandan border town of Gisenyi is crowded with vehicles and displaced people, many of whom spent Thursday night sleeping on the streets.


DR Congo map
  • Lava flow from the north cuts 50 metre-wide swathe through Goma
  • Flow stops as it reaches Lake Kivu
  • Part of the airport runway under lava
  • Earth tremors continue, raising fears of further eruptions
  • "This is going to be a human catastrophe," said an official from a contingent of UN ceasefire observers deployed in the eastern Congolese city of more than half a million.

    "We have to find them shelter, put them up in camps. There's no electricity, no running water."

    UN officials estimate that up to 300,000 people were driven from their homes as molten lava swept through Goma.

    The World Food Programme says it is standing by to provide any emergency supplies required.

    Path of destruction

    The BBC's Andrew Harding in Goma says it looks as though the town has been hit by a giant bulldozer, with the lava destroying everything in its path and setting off explosions at power plants and fuel stores.

    A woman carrying bundles and baby as she flees Goma
    People are fleeing with everything they can carry

    Parts of the runway at Goma airport have disappeared beneath the smoking tide.

    Rob Wilkinson, a spokesman for the charity Oxfam, which has a programme team in the area, said there are unconfirmed reports of thousands of people still trapped between lava streams inside Goma.

    As dawn broke, rescuers dug out corpses from hardening lava that had engulfed entire houses.

    Looting

    Despite the lava, our correspondent reports that thousands of people are now beginning to return to the edges of town, some out of curiosity, others to guard their homes against looters.

    A Congolese officer told the BBC's Helen Vesperini that Congolese troops had started looting in Goma, but Rwandan soldiers were trying to restrain them.

    man watching lava in Goma
    The eruption adds to the woes of Goma's large refugee population

    "There are some buildings still standing, but there are certainly no people around," he said.

    The flow of lava is now said to have stopped after reaching Lake Kivu on the border.

    But clouds of white smoke are hanging over the area and continued earth tremors are keeping alive fears of another eruption.

    The 3,469-metre (11,380 foot) Nyiragongo volcano is one of eight scattered along the borders of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda, and is only about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Goma.

    The region is dense with tropical forests and home to rare mountain gorillas, which inhabit the slopes of the mostly dormant volcanoes.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Andrew Harding
    "The situation in Goma remains extremely dangerous"
    Christian Aid's Marion Matshikiza
    "This eruption is going to have a very big impact on the lives of the people"
    Dr Adolphe Onusumba, RCD Group
    "We are very scared of the human catastrophe"

    Talking PointTALKING POINT
    Congo volcano
    Tell us about your experiences
    See also:

    31 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
    Early warning for volcanic mudslides
    19 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
    Volcano teaches deadly lessons
    15 Mar 00 | Europe
    Living with a volcano
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