A smoking trail of lava from a volcanic eruption appeared to have halted a few hundred metres from the edge of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city on Sunday morning, said a Reuters reporter at the scene.
Goma, a lakeside city of about 2 million people, was thrown into panic on Saturday evening as the nearby Mount Nyiragongo erupted, turning the night sky an eerie red. Thousands fled with their belongings on foot, some towards the nearby border with Rwanda.
As the sun rose on Sunday, much of the hillside to the north of the town was burned black and houses had been demolished. The sky was again a cloudy gray.
A crowd gathered in the morning to inspect the piles of smouldering lava deposited by the eruption and to snap photos.
“Local authorities who have been monitoring the eruption overnight report that the lava flow has lost intensity,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter on Sunday.
Immigration officials in neighbouring Rwanda reported that some 3,000 people had crossed over from Congo to escape the volcano’s eruption, according to the national broadcaster.
The government said an evacuation plan was being activated, but the official announcement came several hours after the sky turned a fiery red, and many already had fled on foot in hopes of crossing the Rwandan border post just outside town. Car horns honked and motorcycle taxis weaved as people attempted to escape in panic.
Nyiragongo’s previous eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is considered among the most dangerous. Saturday’s eruption appears to have been caused when fractures opened in the volcano’s side, causing lava flows in various directions.
Experts were worried that the volcanic activity observed in the past five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.
The Reuters reporter said the lava flow had stopped short of Goma’s airport and the city limits but that surrounding villages were hit.
Lava crossed a main road out of Goma, cutting if off from cities to the north. Traffic was in gridlock in most places as people tried to leave or return to assess the damage to their homes.
It was not possible to estimate material damage or if anyone had died.
A separate lava flow that headed east over unpopulated terrain toward Rwanda also appeared to have stopped, the reporter said.