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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 10:45 GMT
Goma petrol station blast 'kills 50'
Goma blast
Thick black smoke and flames filled the sky
Lava flows from a volcanic eruption have set alight a petrol station in the Congolese town of Goma, killing about 50 people who were trying to siphon fuel from its tanks, witnesses say.


There were about 50 to 60 people inside. Nobody could have escaped

Eyewitness Kahokolo Kambale
A large fireball exploded early on Monday morning, leaving a huge pall of black smoke hanging over the stricken town.

Eyewitness Kahokolo Kambale told Reuters that 50 to 60 people were inside the petrol station. "Nobody could have escaped," he said.

Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been devastated by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, which has sent lava flowing through the town.

Click here for a detailed map

Despite continuing earth tremors and other hazards facing the town, displaced residents have been streaming back in their hundreds from temporary camps across the border in Rwanda to see what remains of their homes.

"I want to return home because my house is still there and I have heard that the lava has stopped," Augustin Mirenge, a Goma school teacher told the Associated Press.

A Congolese woman jumps across lava rock in the western town of Monigi, Congo near Goma
People, many barefoot, are braving hot lava to return
"The weather is so cold, we can't go to [the camp]... it's in a forest, so the conditions are harsh and there are many mosquitoes," he said.

But United Nations officials say that apart from the immediate hazards, there is no fresh water or electricity in Goma, and food is in short supply.

And although an international operation is now gathering pace, so far little aid has reached the area.

The petrol station inferno came after a night of violent earth tremors that could be felt on both sides of the Congo-Rwanda border.

Inaccessible

Fuel exploded shortly before 0900 (0700 GMT), sending a great ball of orange flame shooting into the air. Dense black smoke could be seen from miles away.

Lava-filled street in Goma
The lava flows have obliterated large parts of the town
Reports said the petrol station was still ablaze and inaccessible to rescuers several hours after the blast. Other tanks were said to have exploded after the initial blast.

The petrol station had apparently been covered with some of the volcanic lava which swept down from Mount Nyiragongo last week and obliterated large parts of Goma.

Looters were using plastic containers to retrieve the fuel and carry it back.

The station is located by one of the main lava flows, but the lava had cooled enough for people to walk across it.

The eruption itself, which sent hundreds of thousands of Goma residents fleeing to Rwanda on Thursday, has killed about 45 people, according to UN estimates.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Judith Melby Christian Aid
"People want to go home"
The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"The scale of this disaster is hard to comprehend"
The BBC's Terry Stiastny
"People stealing petrol spilt some fuel on the hot lava, it and everything around it ignited"

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

21 Jan 02 | Africa
Eyewitness: Goma petrol blast
21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Straw visits volcano-hit Congo
20 Jan 02 | Africa
In pictures: Eruption aftermath
15 Mar 00 | Europe
Living with a volcano
19 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Volcano teaches deadly lessons
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