People in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) woke up with more powerful tremors on Saturday morning as fleeing families sought refuge from a dreaded second volcanic eruption struggling to find enough food and water.
Dozens of people died when Mount Nyiragongo volcano, one of the most active in the world, roared back to life a week ago, sending rivers of lava that stretched into the nearby city of Goma which destroyed thousands of homes. along the way. The lava stopped just near the city limits, but thousands more people fled on Thursday when the government warned the volcano could erupt again at any time.
Most people have headed to the city of Sake or the border with Rwanda in the northeast, while others have 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 in foster families.
In Sake, about 20 miles (13 miles) northwest of Goma, people slept where they could, along the road, and inside classrooms and churches.
Kabuo Asifiwe Muliwavyo, 36, said she and her seven children had not eaten since they arrived on Thursday.
“We were told there would be a second eruption and there would be a big gas explosion,” he told Reuters news agency as he cradled his one-year-old crying.
“But since we moved, there’s nothing here … We’re starving.”
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Evacuated Eugene Kubugoo told AFP news agency that the water gave the children diarrhea and said, “We have nothing to eat or no place to sleep.”
Hassan Kanga, a lawyer who fled after the eruption, said: “They told everyone that assistance would be arranged, that the government would disburse money.
“Still, you find us under the stars.”
On Friday afternoon, Rwandan President Paul Kagame called for “urgent global support” to manage the crisis, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said some 400,000 people needed support or protection. .
“With an increased risk of cholera outbreaks, we call for urgent international assistance to prevent what could be a catastrophe for children,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in the DRC.
The evacuation order was issued Thursday around 1 a.m., after radar images showed molten rock flowing under Goma.
The movement of the magma caused cracks in the earth and hundreds of earthquakes, which could allow it to burst to the surface in a new 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 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are currently dissolving 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 earthquakes had been reduced in the past 24 hours, suggesting that the risk of a new eruption is slowing, Celestin Kasareka Mahinda of the OVG said on Friday.
“I do not think we will have a second eruption. The problem is the risk of fractures, but the risk is small, around 20 percent, “he told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Congolese authorities reopened the main road divided in two by lava, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.
On Friday, almost all the shops and banks in downtown Goma were closed and only a handful of people and some motorcycle taxis were on the busy streets.
In the poorer neighborhoods north of the city, there were a handful of shops open and there were more people, including children playing near a water truck.
“I will stay in the city. I know I’m in imminent danger, but I have no choice, “said Aline Uramahoro, who owns a brewery. “I’ll leave when the volcano starts spitting.”
About 3,500 meters high, Nyiragongo is straddling the East African Rift tectonic divide. Its last major eruption, in 2002, caused about 100 lives and the deadliest eruption recorded killed more than 600 people in 1977.
Herman Paluku, who turned 94, said he had seen them all and insisted he would not move this time.
“There is a small hill near here which means that the lava does not reach us. And that’s what protects us a little bit, ”he said in Swahili, his hands sweeping the air.
“I can never get out of here, in this situation. I can not “.