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JOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo – After a night of chaos and panic, the threat of a volcano eruption in a major city in the Congo appeared to recede on Sunday when a river of boiling lava stopped at the northern edge of the city.
Tens of thousands of people fled the eastern city of Goma on Saturday night as lava began to erupt from nearby Mount Nyiragongo, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, drawing noxious fumes and filling the sky with an ominous fiery glow. .
After crossing a major highway, the lava advanced towards Goma, a city of two million people destroyed by the last eruption, in 2002, when lava sealed off entire neighborhoods, killing several hundreds of people and leaving at least 100,000 homeless.
Unsure of the way the lava was flowing, terrified residents crammed into vehicles or fled on foot, and many residents hurriedly clutched mattresses and bags of their belongings. Authorities said at least five people had died in accidents as the city was vacated.
Some residents headed east to the nearby border with Rwanda, where they had crossed 3,500 by Sunday morning, and others fled west.
But residents said the lava stopped at Bauhiné on the northern edge of Goma at around 3am, seven hours after the eruption was first reported. By Sunday morning, the exodus turned in the opposite direction as residents returned to Goma, hoping to verify if their homes had been damaged or looted.
Albert Mehiji, 28, said: “People are comfortable but still afraid. Fear still exists because there are rumors of a second wave.”
Mr. Muyhegye rode his motorcycle toward the lava on Saturday, he said, to see in which direction it was flowing so he could warn his family.
“People were terrified,” he said, adding that two elderly people in his neighborhood had died of a heart attack when they heard that the volcano had erupted.
The sense of horrific drama was heightened on Saturday by an eruption of thunder and lightning around the volcano, as the ground shook with repeated tremors.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo released a video of a reconnaissance flight that showed a huge pool of red lava brightly burning in the night dark. As lava moved toward the city’s airport, the Congolese government ordered the evacuation of the city.
Authorities in Rwanda reported that 3,500 people had crossed the border by midnight, with many finding shelter in empty churches and schools.
But by lunchtime Sunday, the Congolese authorities declared the worst was over.
“The city has escaped,” General Constant Ndima, the region’s military governor, said in a statement.
However, not all of Goma survived unscathed.
In Bauhinia, residents returned early on Sunday to find that their homes had been swallowed up by a river of lava, about half a mile wide, that engulfed an area the size of several blocks in the city.
The rooftops overlooked a river of billowing lava, which had begun to rise, although flames still waved through the cracks in places.
Sorry for their losses, some residents tried to save what they could from homes on the edge of the lava. To others from different parts of the city, the site immediately sparked their curiosity.
Some have collected bits of lava that were still warm to the touch for souvenirs or self-portraits. Others cooked cones of corn and cassava on hot rocks for the entertainment of the crowd.
Mount Nyiragongo, at 11,385 feet, has always threatened the surrounding area. In 1977, thousands were killed when a volcano eruption sent magma to the mountainside at Rated maximum speeds More than 60 mph.
Unusually even for an active volcano, it contains a massive, continuous lava lake low in silica, which makes the lava fluid flow rapidly when it erupts.
If the recent eruption proves to have nearly missed it, it will likely raise questions about why residents have received no warning. There is an early warning system at Mount Nyiragongo, with experts monitoring temperatures, gas emissions, and seismic activity at the volcano.
But earlier this year, the World Bank cut funding to the organization that runs the system, the Goma Volcano Observatory, amid corruption charges. With the funding cut, volcanologists have struggled to gather data.
In March, when the crater was re-filled with magma, some warned of possible dire consequences.
“Residents will not have time to evacuate and people will die,” volcanologist Honori Serapa said To Reuters.
During the 2002 outbreak, the damage to Juma was exacerbated by the explosion of gas stations in the city. Among the dead were elderly people who were unable to flee in time, and thieves who moved through empty homes.
And apparently, after taking lessons from the chaos, tankers ferried fuel out of the city on Saturday to avoid the explosions. In the capital, Kinshasa, the government has activated Goma evacuation plans.
Tremors from the volcano continued until Sunday afternoon in Goma, leading to a prolonged sense of fear among the residents and fears that the crisis was not completely over. But Patrick Moyaya, a spokesman for the Congolese government, said the decision appeared to be over.
“Local authorities who were monitoring the eruption overnight were informed that the lava flow had lost its intensity,” he said on Twitter.
Finbar O’Reilly Reported from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Declan Walsh From Nairobi, Kenya. Austin Ramsey He contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Steve Wimpy From Kinshasa, Congo.
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