Thousands of local people and some aid workers scrambled to flee the Congolese city of Goma on Thursday after officials said a second volcanic eruption could hit with little or no warning.
Thirty-one people were killed on Saturday evening when Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted, sending a wall of orange lava downhill towards the lakeside city of about 2 million people, destroying 17 villages on the way.
The lava stopped just 300 metres short of Goma airport, the main hub for aid operations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the city was spared but hundreds of earthquakes since have destroyed buildings and opened cracks in the earth.
Seismic and ground deformation data indicates the presence of magma – the molten rock which normally stays beneath the earth’s crust – under Goma, extending under Lake Kivu, said Ndima Kongba, the military governor of North Kivu province.
“Given these scientific observations, an eruption on land or under the lake cannot be ruled out at present, and it could occur with very little or no warning,” Kongba said.
On Thursday morning, many people headed out of town on foot, with huge bundles on their heads. Others fled by car, creating traffic jams across the city, or on large boats that took them across the adjoining Lake Kivu.
“The first day I didn’t move because there were no orders, but today it’s different,” said Alfred Bulangalire, 42, who was feeling Goma on foot with his wife and four children.
“I know that my shop will be looted, but I have to protect myself and my family,” he said.
Houses abandoned after the eruption on Saturday have been looted, the United Nations said.
“People are running to the west, to Sake, and east to Rwanda. There are long lines of cars with mattresses, supplies and water, people on motorbikes,” said Chiara Frisone, a spokeswoman for the United Nations children’s fund.
“There are local people and international organizations as well, it’s quite a chaotic situation,” she said, adding that the U.N.’s emergency response teams and local partners were remaining in the city.
Ten neighbourhoods in the east of the city, which lay in the path of lava from the previous eruption in 2002, needed to evacuate to Sake, another lakeside town around 13 miles (21 km) northwest, he said.
“Evacuation is compulsory, those who do not adhere swiftly, carry unnecessary risks. A return home can only take place on the recommendation of the provincial authority.”
On Wednesday the U.N. said it was temporarily relocating around 250 non-essential staff, around half of its aid workers, and about 1,500 of their dependents to the city of Bukavu, around 50 km (30 miles) south.
Congo imposed martial law on the region earlier this month to try to stem the bloodshed and widespread insecurity many people still face every day, long after the official end of the civil war in 2003.
Around 3,000 houses were destroyed in Saturday’s volcanic eruption and more than 20,000 people left homeless. At least 40 people are still missing.
Videos from the eruption that killed 31 people on Saturday