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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Saturday, 19 January, 2002, 17:22 GMT
Eyewitness: Desperate plight of victims
Resident with belongings walks past the lava flow
Residents have crossed the lava to save belongings
Andrew Harding

Day three, and the lava is still flowing, eating its way through what is left of Goma, bulldozing much of the town into Lake Kivu.


The town turned into one giant dormitory. Rows of children huddled together in blankets

From the shores of the lake, I can see huge clouds of steam billowing up into the air.

The earth tremors have not stopped here. Some are almost strong enough to knock you off your feet.

Geologists say it could be a sign that the volcano is settling down, but it could just as well mean that more violent eruptions are on the way.

Hundreds of people have come back into Goma. They are risking their lives, not only to get to their houses close to the lava flow, but also, amazingly, to cross it.

It is safe enough to walk on, but still extremely hot and in some places still moving.

These people are carrying chickens, they are carrying goats, they are carrying their whole households on their heads, on their backs.

The flow of traffic goes both ways - some people heading home to see if their houses are intact and to rescue belongings, others bringing what they have managed to scavenge out the other way.

No food for two days

The displaced refugees spent Friday night in the open in the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, sleeping rough or in gardens.

The town turned into one giant dormitory. Several hundred refugees crammed into the forecourt of a petrol station.

Rows of children huddled together in blankets, one baby girl nursing a burned arm.

Molten lava flows down the street
More than half of Goma has been consumed by lava
Many refugees are penniless and some have been complaining that they have not eaten for two days - the first humanitarian aid is only now being handed out and more supplies are on the way.

They say they are reluctant to move into refugee camps being set up by the Rwandan authorities fearing diseases like cholera.

A pretty desperate situation, and the Rwandan authorities who have borne the brunt of this exodus are now appealing for international help - all the help they can get.

Looting

In Goma itself, there have been several bursts of gunfire, presumably from soldiers trying to prevent looting.


This is a stunningly beautiful fertile region, but it is poor too and heavily overpopulated

But the headquarters of a United Nations observer mission has already been ransacked, reportedly by local troops.

Some people have returned to Goma, some simply to watch the spectacle, others hoping to salvage possessions.

This is a stunningly beautiful fertile region, but it is poor too and heavily overpopulated.

This natural catastrophe has followed on the heels of years of conflict involving several rebel armies and militias.

See also:

19 Jan 02 | Africa
Volcano exodus sparks aid alert
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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