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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 21:58 GMT
Aid agencies battle volcano disaster
Lava pours down a street in Goma
Red-hot lava has filled the streets of Goma
Aid agencies are scrambling to help some 400,000 people displaced after a massive volcano eruption near the town of Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

People haven't had any food for more than a day now - there is not enough water or shelter

James Mathenge
World Vision
A 50-metre-wide river of red-hot lava has cut through the town, which is situated 10 kilometres from the volcano, destroying everything in its path and killing at least 45 people, UN officials in the area said.

Much of the lava has poured into nearby Lake Kivu, contaminating the water supply and sparking fears of possible explosions.

Aid agencies are considering moving hundreds of thousands of people who have taken refuge near the lake to two camps about 35-40 km (20-25 miles) away.

Click here for a detailed map

The need for water in an immediate concern. Goma's water company has stopped functioning and two of its three pumping stations have been damaged, Florian Westphal, a spokesman for the International Red Cross said.

"We're worried about the effects of a possible explosion under Lake Kivu and possible contamination of the lake by the volcano," said UN spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs.

Earth tremors are continuing, raising fears of further eruptions.

Emergency relief

Food is another major concern.

"The city is destroyed... people haven't had any food for more than a day now. There is not enough water or shelter," said James Mathenge from World Vision.

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

A woman carrying bundles and baby as she flees Goma
There is not enough water or food for the refugees
But with Goma airport unusable because of lava on the runway and many roads cut off, getting aid into the area will be difficult.

"The roads are chock-a-block with cars and people, people moving in all ways," a WFP spokeswoman said.

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.

The BBC's Jules Ngola Ngoma, who was among those who fled Goma last night, described the sight: "It was the first time for me to see that kind of fire - a very big fire - which, when it comes, it burns all things on its way."

He took his three daughters and fled to the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi.

"Yesterday, I was with almost 30,000 people when we came in Gisenyi. But before we came, many other people went... and now we have almost 100,000 people from Goma in Gisenyi," our reporter said.

Lost children

The Rwandan authorities are struggling to cope with the huge influx of people.

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

In the chaos of the rushed evacuation many children were separated from their parents.

A man stands on the runway at Goma airport
The airport runway is covered in lava
"This is terrible, my children have all disappeared, and I am confused and shocked," said Mulili Flaha, who lost track of her husband and five children as they fled Goma on Thursday.

Several aid agencies are now carrying out assessments if how and where to best provide aid to Goma's stricken people.

Refugee camps

Unicef reported that one possibility under discussion is moving the displaced people to two camps about 35-40 km (20-25 miles) away.

The camps between Ruhengeri and Gisenyi have been used in the past when refugees moved back from Zaire.

"There is a situation approaching chaos in some areas and the fact that we can't predict when or how the volcano will erupt again and at what stage the worst is over yet," said Rob Wilkinson from Oxfam's base in the Rwandan capital Kigali

The BBC's Andrew Harding in Goma says it looks as though Goma 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.

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

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The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Whole neighbourhoods have been burnt to the ground"
Marion Matshikiza of Christian Aid
"This eruption is going to have a very big impact on the lives of the people"
Cambridge University geologist Clive Openheimer
"It is a known dangerous volcano"

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