No evacuation order was given by the authorities and there was no immediate information on the victims. Witnesses, however, said lava had already engulfed a highway that connects Goma to the town of Beni in North Kivu province.
The last eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in 2002 left hundreds of people dead and smeared airport runways with lava.
The story continues under the ad
The UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, tweeted dramatic footage of the city, claiming it was conducting reconnaissance flights over the city where it maintains a large base.
“The lava does not seem to be heading towards the city of Goma. We remain on alert, ”he said.
Congo announces the end of the 11th deadly Ebola epidemic
But that did not prevent thousands of people from fleeing, many on foot, to the border with Rwanda just beyond the city. Car horns honked and motorcycle taxis spun as people panicked to escape.
‘Nowhere to go’: Canadian home buyers running out of options
What happened to Arlene Westervelt?
Others fled to Mount Goma, the highest point in the metropolitan area. Dorcas Mbulayi left his home about an hour after the volcano first showed signs of erupting.
Polls open to the presidential election in the Republic of Congo
“We were eating when a friend of daddy called him on the phone and told him to go look outside,” said Mbulayi, who was still a child the last time the volcano erupted. “Dad told us that the volcano was erupting and that we were going to go to Mount Goma to escape the lava from the volcano.”
She also criticized the authorities “for not having informed us in time of the possible volcanic eruption”.
The lack of immediate announcements from the authorities and conflicting accounts circulating on social media only added to the sense of chaos in Goma.
Authorities at the Goma Volcano Observatory initially said it was the nearby Nyamulagira Volcano that erupted. The two volcanoes are located about 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) apart.
The La Soufrière volcano in Saint-Vincent blows in an “explosive eruption”
Volcanologist Charles Balagizi said the observatory’s report was based on the direction the lava appeared to be flowing, which was toward Rwanda rather than Goma.
Goma sits along the border between Congo and neighboring Rwanda, and is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as for the United Nations peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.
The erupting volcano is also close to Virunga National Park, home to some of the last mountain gorillas in the world. While Goma is home to many UN peacekeepers and aid workers, much of eastern Congo is also threatened by a myriad of armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.
Funeral reported from Beni, Congo.