Residents of DR Congo Goma face further uncertainty after volcanic eruption

When Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted on May 22, thousands of people fled from the nearby town of Goma. Some of them came home to destroy homes, power cuts, and water shortages, but planned to rebuild. However, recurring seismic shocks and the risk of further eruptions prompted authorities on May 27 to order tens of thousands of people to leave Goma again. Our observers shared images of the city taken on their brief return home.

On the night of May 22, the panicked residents of Goma fled west or attempted to cross the nearby border with Rwanda to the east. There was no warning from the Goma Volcanic Observatory, which is tasked with monitoring the volcanic situation and warning the public of trouble about the impending eruption. It was later discovered that the regional observatory had been inoperative for months due to a lack of funding.

Although lava flows stopped just before the city, Goma residents were still wary: recurring seismic tremors continued to destabilize buildings, putting some at risk of collapse. As a result, many families chose to sleep outside. These ongoing risks, as well as the potential for further eruptions, have forced authorities to order the evacuation of part of the city of Goma, promptly leaving tens of thousands of people.

Nous dormons à la belle étoile …. peur de secousse et effondrement des bâtiments #Goma #Volcan il ya trop de secousse à repétition pic.twitter.com/f3fLlP1tJY

– Jess Moranga (@jessmoranga) May 23, 2021 This tweet reads: “We sleep outside … afraid of vibrations and collapsing buildings #Goma #volcano There are too many repeated vibrations.”

At least 32 people have died in events related to the eruption, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. Seven people died from lava, while five died from asphyxiation.

. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

The day after the eruption, the situation in the city was chaotic. The main road connecting the city to the rest of the region was cut off by a river of lava, disrupting the provision of relief supplies. Regular aftershocks still affected the area five days after the eruption, on May 27.

. © Serge Byemba

Our observer, journalist Alain Wandimoyi, took photos of massive cracks that had appeared in the ground and buildings on May 24 and 25.

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‘We soon realized that a long battle was just beginning’

IT engineer

Goma, DR Congo

Our observer, messager Takehya Nzanzu, a 24-year-old IT engineer, had to leave his home in the Majengo neighborhood of Goma on the night of the eruption.

I started to see people fleeing around 6pm. I formed a group of about ten people with my neighbors and we left for Saké around 10 pm [23km to the west of Goma].

We stopped half way through and slept outside. It was a scene of total panic, people carried their belongings and left with their children. And suddenly it started to rain, which made the whole situation even more difficult.

#RDC #Goma #EruptionVolcanique #Nyiragongo

Les familles passent nuit à la belle étoile. Homme, wife and children dormitory near the arteries of the Goma by the bonne information. pic.twitter.com/S8gueweOHN

– Dido Kayembe (@DidoKayembe) May 23, 2021 This Tweet reads: “Families spend the night outside. Men, women and children sleep on the ground on Goma roads with no useful information. They are awaiting evacuation through the Goma Volcanic Observatory.”

Early Sunday morning I returned home to find that my neighborhood was spared destruction, but completely deserted. Just two miles away, several houses were inundated with lava.

The still-smoking lava from Mount Nyiragongo, near Goma, May 23, 2021.

. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

We soon realized that a long battle was just beginning: power pylons had been dragged along by the lava, so there is almost no electricity, drinking water is hard to find, the main road has been destroyed and many people have lost their homes.

For example, there is no electricity at my house. Fortunately, a neighbor has a solar panel and I was able to charge my phone at his home. On the street you meet a lot of people with their stuff. Fortunately, I have noticed that there has been a real wave of solidarity, and most of the people affected by this have found people to keep up in Goma.

Seismic shocks have been constant since the eruption. I am okay, my house is made of wood so it will not collapse [Editor’s note: wooden buildings absorb seismic tremors better because wood is a more flexible material than concrete]. But people who live in houses made of durable materials such as concrete, especially in the city center, live in constant fear that their home will crumble around them. Some people prefer to sleep outside without shelter.

Consequences of the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, May 25, 2021.

. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

With most of Goma under new evacuation orders, it is unclear when the city’s residents will return. But according to messager Takehya Nzanzu, residents of Goma will report to the authorities once they can safely return to their homes.

When this period of panic is over, I think there will be anger towards the Goma Volcanic Observatory, which failed in its mission and put the population at risk. People are already talking about it and asking questions.

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