Thousands flee DR Congo volcano for neighbouring Rwanda

Provided by AFP DR Congo Residents flee as Mount Nyiragongo volcano erupts

Mount Nyiragongo has erupted for the first time in almost two decades, sending lava sliding down the hillside towards the eastern city of Goma and forcing thousands of people to flee.

It was previously reported that most of the lava will flow east, and Goma is located south of the volcano. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain.

"There are a lot of people on the road, a lot of cars, it's an escape", one man with his family in his vehicle told AFP.

On Saturday, Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya had said that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was "discussing the urgent measures to take at present".

The Goma region, which lies in North Kivu province, bordering Rwanda and Uganda, has six volcanoes, all higher than 3,000 metres.

"The situation is deteriorating", an official from Virunga National Park - where the erupting volcano is located - said in a message to staff, which AFP was copied in on.

"The lava doesn't seem to be headed toward the city of Goma".

On Saturday the Observatory was monitoring the direction of the lava flow, and said that for the moment it was heading towards Rwanda.

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Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi had said he would "interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid".

"The eruption of Nyiragongo volcano, which occurred at about seven o'clock in the evening local time", confirmed the military governor of North Kivu, with its capital, 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 the United Nations peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.

Goma residents, remembering Nyiragongo's last eruption in 2002, which killed 250 people and left 120 000 homeless, grabbed mattresses and other belongings and fled toward the frontier with neighbouring Rwanda.

Others fled to the city centre from villages and neighbourhoods threatened by lava on the northern outskirts.

Volcano watchers fear that the volcanic activity observed in the past five years will be similar to the years prior to the 1977 and 2002 eruptions. Shortly after the volcano erupted, electricity was cut off in large parts of the city.

Goma appeared relatively calm as dawn broke, but people said they are still wary.

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