Residents of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) woke up to stronger tremors on Saturday morning, as fleeing families seeking shelter from a dreaded second volcanic eruption struggled to find enough food and water.
Dozens of people died when Mount Nyiragongo volcano, one of the most active in the world, came back to life a week ago, sending rivers of lava spilling out towards the nearby town of Goma which destroyed thousands of houses along the way. The lava stopped just before the city limits, but thousands more fled Thursday when the government warned the volcano could erupt again at any time.
Most people headed for the town of Sake or the Rwandan border to the northeast, while others fled by boat across Lake Kivu. Nearly 10,000 people are taking refuge in Bukavu on the south shore of the lake, according to Governor Theo Ngwabidje, many of them with host families.
In Sake, about 20 kilometers (13 miles) northwest of Goma, people slept where they could – by the side of the road and inside classrooms and churches.
Kabuo Asifiwe Muliwavyo, 36, said she and her seven children had not eaten since arriving on Thursday.
“They told us there would be a second eruption and there would be a big gas explosion,” she told Reuters news agency as she cradled her crying.
“But since we moved, there is nothing left here … We are starving.”
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Evacuee Eugene Kubugoo told AFP news agency that the water gave children diarrhea and said, “We have nothing to eat and no place to sleep.”
Hassan Kanga, a lawyer who fled after the eruption, said: “They told everyone that the aid would be organized, that the money would be disbursed by the government.
“And yet you find us under the stars.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on late Friday called for “urgent global support” to deal with the crisis, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said some 400,000 people were in need of support or protection .
“With an increased risk of a cholera epidemic, we call for urgent international aid to avoid what could be a disaster for children,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF representative in the DRC.
The evacuation order was issued at around 1 a.m. local time on Thursday after radar images showed molten rock flowing beneath Goma.
The movement of the magma has caused cracks in the ground and hundreds of earthquakes, which could allow it to rise to the surface in another eruption, the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) said.
Volcanologists say the worst-case scenario is an eruption under the lake. This could release hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is currently dissolved in the depths of the water. The gas would rise to the surface of the lake, forming an invisible cloud that would linger at ground level and displace oxygen, suffocating life.
But the frequency and intensity of ground shaking has declined over the past 24 hours, suggesting the risk of another eruption is fading, OVG’s Celestin Kasareka Mahinda said on Friday.
“I don’t think we’ll have a second blowout. The problem is the risk of fractures, but the risk is low, around 20%, ”he told Reuters.
The Congolese authorities, meanwhile, have reopened the main road which was cut in two by lava, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday.
On Friday almost all shops and banks in central Goma were closed, and only a handful of people and a few motorcycle taxis were in the generally busy streets.
In the poorer neighborhoods in the north of the city, a handful of stores were open and there were more people, including children frolicking near a tanker.
“I will stay in town. I know I am in imminent danger but I have no choice, ”said Aline Uramahoro, who runs a beer store. “I’ll leave when the volcano starts to spit.”
Nearly 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) high, the Nyiragongo straddles the tectonic division of the East African Rift. Its last major eruption, in 2002, killed around 100 people and the deadliest eruption on record killed more than 600 people in 1977.
Herman Paluku, who gave his age at 94, said he’s seen them all – and insisted he wouldn’t budge this time.
“There is a small hill near here, which means the lava is not reaching us. And that’s what protects us a bit, ”he said in Swahili, his hands sweeping the air.
“I will never be able to leave here in this situation.” I can not.