Tens of thousands of people fled the eastern DR Congo city of Goma on Friday, choking highways, after the local governor warned in a dawn broadcast of a possible new eruption of the volcano Mount Nyiragongo.
The volcano’s monitors also pointed to a potentially catastrophic scenario — a “limnic eruption” that could smother the area with suffocating carbon dioxide.
The government said a team of experts was at the summit of the volcano carrying out a risk assessment.
The city, located on the shore of Lake Kivu, has been on edge since Africa’s most active volcano erupted on Saturday, leaving 32 people dead.
“Right now we can’t rule out an eruption on land or under the lake, which could happen very soon and without warning,” said General Constant Ndima, the military governor of North Kivu province.
He said an evacuation of part of the city of more than 600,000 — among some two million in the greater urban area — had been ordered, and urged residents to leave calmly.
Ndima, warning that “the situation can change rapidly, and is being constantly monitored,” said authorities had arranged transport towards Sake, around 20 kilometres west of Goma.
But Agnes Kahindo, trying to make her way to Sake, said: “We don’t see these means to leave Goma. There are too many traffic jams, and the price of motorbike taxis has shot up.” Traffic was backed up for several kilometres on the road headed west, a reporter said.
One Goma resident said: “It’s fear, it’s panic, everyone is fleeing!” Tens of thousands fled Goma last weekend after Nyiragongo erupted on Saturday night, although many returned. But strong aftershocks have continued to rattle the city, causing some buildings to collapse and leaving residents fearful.
The volcano spewed out two rivers of molten rock during the eruption, one of which came to halt on the edge of Goma after obliterating villages in its wake.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said more than 4,500 homes were destroyed, affecting some 20,000 people.—Reuters