Thousands flee Goma city in DR Congo after volcano erupts

Provided by AFP DR Congo Residents flee as Mount Nyiragongo volcano erupts

The U.N. peacekeeping mission had said that it didn't appear the lava was flowing toward Goma based on reconnaissance flights, but untold thousands still set off in search of safety.

The volcano erupting is also close the Virunga National Park, home to some of the last mountain gorillas in the world.

On Saturday, Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya had said that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was "discussing the urgent measures to take at present".

"Besides the lava flow in the north east (Kibumba / Rwanda), the flow is also descending on the town. There is a risk that the lava will flow on Goma - you never know", another said.

"There is a smell of sulphur".

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi is returning from Europe to oversee the relief efforts and is closely monitoring the security and humanitarian situation in the country's eastern North Kivu province, the presidency said.

For the moment, there is no sign of a flow of lava from the city, the correspondent said.

Goma sits along the border between Congo and neighboring Rwanda, and is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as the United Nations peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.

The Rwanda Broadcast Agency tweeted photos of those arriving in Rubavu district, adding they would be "accommodated in schools and places of worship that have been made ready".

The volcano last erupted in 2002, with some 250 people losing their lives and lava destroying approximately one-fifth of city, including airport runways. Lava reached the city's airport.

People grabbed mattresses and other belongings and fled towards the frontier with Rwanda as a red glow filled the sky above the city.

Others fled to the city centre from villages and neighbourhoods threatened by lava on the northern outskirts.

"It is moving at a snail's pace, on three or four lanes", he said, adding: "There are children, women, old people who are on foot and the rain is coming".

Experts were anxious that the volcanic activity observed in the past five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.

Earlier this year, researchers working at the Goma Volcano Observatory reported signals that an eruption might be on the way.

Volcanologists at the OVG, which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to make basic checks on a regular basis since the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations.