At least 15 people died when torrents of lava poured into villages after dark in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, destroying more than 500 homes, officials and survivors said on Sunday.
The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on Saturday evening sent around 5,000 people fleeing the city of Goma across the neighboring border into Rwanda, while another 25,000 sought refuge in the northwest in Sake, the Nations agency said on Sunday. United for Children.
More than 170 children were still missing and Unicef officials said they were organizing transit centers to help unaccompanied children in the aftermath of the disaster.
Goma was ultimately largely spared from the massive destruction it suffered the last time the volcano erupted in 2002. Hundreds of people died and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. But in the outlying villages closer to the volcano, Sunday was marked by grief and uncertainty.
Aline Bichikwebo and her baby managed to escape when the lava flow reached her village, but said her mother and father were among those who perished. Community members gave an interim death toll of 10 in Bugamba alone, although provincial officials said it was too early to know how many died.
Bichikwebo says she tried to save her father but was not strong enough to get him to safety before the family’s house was set ablaze with lava.
“I’m asking for help because everything we had is gone,” she said, clutching her baby. “We don’t even have a pot. We are now orphans and we have nothing.
The air remained thick with smoke from the number of houses that had caught fire from the lava.
“People are still panicking and hungry,” said resident Alumba Sutoye. “They don’t even know where they are going to spend the night.”
Elsewhere, authorities said at least five other people died in a truck crash as they tried to evacuate Goma, but the extent of the losses has yet to be determined in some of the hardest-hit communities. affected.
Residents said there was little warning before the eruption and that on Sunday smoke was still rising from smoldering lava heaps in the Buhene area near Goma.
“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighborhood,” said Innocent Bahala Shamavu. “All the houses in the Buhene neighborhood were set on fire.”
Elsewhere, witnesses said lava engulfed a highway connecting Goma to the town of Beni. However, the airport appears to have been spared the same fate as in 2002 when lava poured onto the runways.
Goma is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as for the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Much of eastern Congo is threatened by a myriad of armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.