Rwanda opens borders to hundreds fleeing DRC following volcanic eruption

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After spending the night outdoors following eruption of Mount Nyiragongo earlier Saturday, thousands of residents in Goma, a major city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have finally managed to get refuge in Rwanda.

After the eruption, the fleeing residents are said to have walked towards Rwanda but the boarders were closed at the time.

Initially, they are believed to have gone back to Goma and headed to an area north of the city, but Rwanda has now opened its borders to accommodate them.

According to Vincent Karega, the Rwandan ambassador to DRC who is stationed in Kinshasa, Rwanda had welcomed those fleeing the volcanic eruption.

He denied reports that the evacuees had been initially blocked from entering the Country.

“The Rwandan borders are open and the reception of our neighbours is taking place peacefully. There was no blockage whatsoever but rather the organisation of coordinated entries,” he said.

Accommodated in schools

Rwandan authorities made an announcement late Saturday evening that the arrivals would be accommodated in schools and places of worship which had been prepared for this purpose.

Casualties

According to multiple sources, no deaths have been reported following the volcanic eruption.

Congolese authorities in Kinshasa said they had decided to activate “an evacuation plan” of the city of Goma.

Fearing the airport in Goma could be affected by the lava flow, the Minister for Transport Chérubin Okende ordered that planes parked there be evacuated to Kisangani in the northeast of the DRC.

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The lava from the erupting mountain reached the DRC city’s airport early Sunday, with an official from Virunga National Park — where the volcano is located — telling his staff: “the situation is deteriorating”.

Aid to the populations of the areas threatened

President Félix Tshisekedi, who has been in Europe since the beginning of the week, is expected back home Sunday.

Mr Tshisekedi is expected to supervise the coordination of aid to the populations of the areas threatened by the volcanic eruption, the presidency announced.

Earlier, reports indicated that as the volcano began lighting up, a smell of sulphur pervaded Goma city on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Goma, the regional capital of North Kivu, has nearly 600,000 inhabitants spread across 12 districts.

The authorities’ evacuation plan anticipates that two-thirds of them will go to Rwanda.

Previous eruptions

The previous major eruption of Nyiragongo dates back to January 17, 2002, with  fast-flowing basalt lava, (1,000 kilometres wide) poured out of Mount Nyiragongo and into the city of Goma. 100 people died, mostly from poisonous gas and becoming trapped in lava.

Cause of eruptions

Nyiragongo and the shield volcano of Nyamuragira, 40 km away, are part of the East African Rift Valley. This is an area of many faults where the plates are being stretched as they move away from each other.

The volcano has a lava lake in its crater. Fissures opened up to the south side of the volcano and three streams of lava from the lake drained through the fissures.

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The lava reached speeds of 60 km/h. There was very little warning as the lava reached the city of Goma. The unrest in the country made it difficult to monitor the volcano and put emergency responses in place.

Impacts

Poisonous gases caused acid rain, which affected farmland and cattle. Many farmers lost income. Had the lava reached Lake Kivu, or seismic activity disrupted the lake, then dangerous levels of carbon dioxide and methane could have been released.

Carbon dioxide levels are still a serious (and possibly deadly) issue in areas where winds do not disperse the released gases.

Lava covered 15 per cent of the city of Goma and destroyed 30 per cent of the city. People returned to Goma hoping to find aid. One month after the eruption, 350,000 people were dependant on aid.

People lost their businesses and jobs. Aviation fuel stores exploded as the lava flow damaged Goma airport.  Due to poverty, most people could not afford to rebuild their homes.

 

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