Volcano erupts in eastern Congo, thousands flee Goma

Congolese residents of Goma flee from Mount Nyiragongo volcano as it erupts over Goma

Residents in the Democratic Republic of Congo have returned to destroyed houses after a large volcano erupted, with many searching for missing loved ones. "People have been working over night under the rain trying to rescue the situation", Musango said.

Mount Nyiragongo, one of the most active and unsafe volcanoes in the world, last erupted in 2002, killing hundreds of people and leaving more than 100,000 homeless. "Everyone is afraid; people are running away".

But the military governor of North Kivu province said "the city was spared" by a matter of a few hundred metres (yards) after "the lava halted near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma". "We really don't know what to do".

Some headed out of the southern end of Goma towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighboring Congolese region of Masisi.

"There are a lot of people on the road, a lot of cars, it's an escape", one man with his family in his vehicle told AFP.

Rwandan immigration authorities reported that some 3,000 people already had officially crossed over from Congo to escape the volcano's eruption, according to the national broadcaster.

The government ministers visiting Goma Monday, including Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, were assessing what aid is needed for those hurt by the eruption.

The UN peacekeeping mission said that it did not appear the lava was flowing towards Goma based on reconnaissance flights but untold thousands still set off in search of safety.

Some boarded boats onto Lake Kivu while others attempted to reach Mount Goma, the highest elevation point. "We remain on alert", it said. Dorcas Mbulayi left her home about an hour after the volcano first showed signs of erupting.

"We just had a big aftershock - I'm scared to stay in my office", said a resident who gave her name only as Deborah, an employee at an worldwide organisation, reached by telephone. "Dad told us that the volcano was erupting and that we were going to go to Mount Goma to escape the lava of the volcano".

The lack of immediate announcements from authorities and conflicting accounts circulating on social media only added to the sense of chaos in Goma.

Scientists at the Volcanic Observatory of Goma were not able to adequately warn the public of the eruption because of a funding cut, the observatory's scientific director of Celestin Kasereka Mahinda said. The two volcanos are located about 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) apart. But still, thousands evacuated - many across the border into Rwanda - remembering the widespread devastation that the last eruption in 2002 caused, when reports of the death toll ranged into the hundredsand tens of thousands of homes were lost.