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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:03 GMT
Expert predicted volcano eruption
Vulcanologist Dieudonne Wafula walks past lava rock at Goma airport
Mr Wafula says all the signs of imminent eruption were there
A Congolese vulcanologist predicted the eruption of the volcano that has devastated the city of Goma and raised the alarm, it has emerged.

Dieudonne Wafula, who has spent years studying the volcano on Mount Nyiragongo, sent urgent e-mails to experts around the world one week before the lava began flowing on 17 January.

I know I must study this volcano. Someone must make this sacrifice for the population

Dieudonne Wafula

Mr Wafula also briefed the local authorities and it was only when the eruption began that he received international funds to set up a survey team.

A United Nations expert sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo after the eruption said action was not taken earlier as there were many predictions and the volcano was not considered dangerous.

As much as 40% of Goma has been destroyed.


Mr Wafula sent his first e-mail to international authorities on 8 January, raising the alarm of an imminent eruption. He then proceeded to alert local officials.

The United Nations and the French Group for the Study of Active Volcanoes agreed to fund a large survey team to take more readings.

Lava-filled street in Goma
The lava flows have obliterated large parts of the town
"For two years, I had suspected that it was going to erupt," the vulcanologist said.

He explained that he had monitored Nyiragongo's smaller neighbour, Mount Nyamulagira, when it erupted inside its crater in January 2000.

"They are connected by a fissure, and I knew Nyiragongo would be next. I held a meeting in Goma then and said: 'This mountain is dangerous'," he told the AP news agency.

After an earthquake hit Goma last October, a volunteer observer mission on the side of Nyiragongo reported deep vibrations under the mountain and black smoke above it. A survey team went to take a look: the shape of the lava pool inside the crater had shifted, and it was getting higher.

This was repeated on 4 January, but this time it was worse, Mr Wafula said.

'Not dangerous'

A member of the team sent to the DRC by the UN, Jacques Durieux, was one of the recipients of Mr Wafula's e-mails.

"Dr Wafula knows this volcano better than anyone else," he said, adding that predictions and observations had been correct.

But Mr Durieux said quicker action was not taken because the study group received numerous predictions and, as Nyiragongo produces soft lava and does not explode, it was not considered particularly dangerous because people could move out of the way of the lava.

Dr Wafula, who studied seismology and vulcanology in Japan, lacks the equipment to make accurate predictions. He has only one observatory and just two seismographs.

He is planning to move to Goma to be closer to the volcano.

"I know I must study this volcano. Someone must make this sacrifice for the population," he told AP. "The problem is, when I start something, I want to finish it. I don't like to change jobs."

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22 Jan 02 | Health
Medical emergency in Goma
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