Goma (RD Congo) (AFP)
Five people were found suffocated to death by toxic fumes from the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in eastern DR Congo on Monday, as strong aftershocks rocked the city of Goma.
The deaths bring the death toll to 20 since Africa’s most active volcano erupted on Saturday, spewing searing molten lava that engulfed homes in its wake.
“We have just discovered five dead,” civil society leader Mambo Kawaya told AFP, saying they were “suffocated by gas” as they attempted to cross the cooling lava. kilometers north of Goma.
A sixth person is in “critical condition with difficulty breathing and has been taken to hospital,” Kawaya said.
Goma, a city of some 1.5 million people in the shadow of the volcano, was on edge as violent aftershocks continued through the night and into Monday morning.
“They are multiplying and they are arriving at any time,” a resident told AFP, describing the aftershocks as “very worrying”.
“It’s been a long night – there’s fear in our stomachs,” she said.
Tens of thousands of residents had fled the city in panic – about 7,000 of them to neighboring Rwanda – when the Nyiragongo began to erupt on Saturday evening.
# photo1 In addition to the five people found dead on Monday, at least 15 people have died, although most were not killed directly by the eruption.
Authorities said nine people died in crashes while rushing to evacuate, while four prisoners were killed trying to escape in the melee. Two people were found burned alive.
Officials said 17 villages on the outskirts of the city suffered significant damage.
– Schools closed, power cut –
As the river of lava stopped at the edge of Goma and many locals have now returned, each aftershock brought anxious locals back to the streets on Monday.
“We just had a big line – I’m afraid to stay in my office,” said a resident who only gave her name as Deborah, an employee of an international organization, reached by phone.
# photo2 ″ I wonder if I should stay or go home. The electricity is cut off, ”she said.
Schools are still closed and students must stay at home, although shops and gas stations have been reopened.
The last major eruption of Nyiragongo, in 2002, killed around 100 people.
– Hundreds of homeless –
On Monday, the blackish solidified lava was still hot and steaming, and dozens of people came out to inspect it or even step on it, despite the risk of inhaling toxic fumes.
The volcano appeared calm on the horizon, the usual smoke rising from its crater.
A government delegation comprising seven ministers arrived from Kinshasa early Monday, while President Félix Tshisekedi cut short a European tour to oversee the aid operation.
The Minister of Health, Jean-Jacques Mbungani, declared on his arrival in Goma that the delegation was ready to organize support for people made homeless after the eruption after having “assessed the state of play”.
Hundreds of people spent Monday evening on the streets after lava destroyed their homes.
Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya warned on Sunday that the prices of food and other essentials are set to rise in Goma as the eruption cut several hundred meters from the road to Butembo, the main trade route. of the region.
After taking part in a UN reconnaissance flight over Nyiragongo, volcanologist Kasereka Mahinda said it was uncertain why the aftershocks were continuing and whether the surge in volcano activity was over.
“Due to the fog, we couldn’t see the inside of the crater,” said Mahinda, scientific director of the Goma Volcanology Observatory.
“If there is lava in the crater, the fracturing caused by the movement of the earth would represent new activity,” he said.
© 2021 AFP