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Fearing Volcanic Eruption, Thousands Flee Goma in Eastern DRC


Residents flee Goma five days after Mount Nyiragongo erupted, in Congo, May 27, 2021.

U.N. aid agencies say residents of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are fleeing the city in fear of further volcanic eruptions from Mount Nyiragongo.

Barely one week has passed since thousands of people in eastern Congo fled to neighboring Rwanda to escape lava flowing down on their towns.

Most who returned soon after are on the move again, following orders by local authorities to evacuate the area.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports more than 30 people were killed, dozens reported missing, and 20,000 rendered homeless in the first volcanic eruption on May 22.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says the number of people who already have left Goma is not known, but some 400,000 potentially are affected by an evacuation order issued by local authorities. He says many people are fleeing east into neighboring Rwanda, while others are going north toward the town of Rutshuru or south toward Bukavu.

"Large traffic jams were observed yesterday on the main exit roads from Goma," Laerke said. "People are moving in all directions mostly on foot, carrying what they can, but also in cars, and on boats. Strong tremors continued yesterday, one of them of magnitude 4.9 on the Richter scale. Such tremors could cause more lava to escape from the many cracks in the mountain.”

The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 4,000 people from DRC had arrived in Rwanda as of late Thursday. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says more displaced people are arriving as Goma is being evacuated.

"UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency is working closely with the Rwandan authorities at the national and local level to assist them and provide emergency assistance," Baloch said. "We are grateful to Rwanda for opening its borders to the people in need of safety.”

OCHA reports it plans to expand its humanitarian aid beyond people directly affected by the volcanic eruption in Goma. It says people who have fled to Rutshuru, Bukavu and other relocation areas also will be assisted.

The World Food Program reports it has been providing food aid in Rwanda since May 25 to people who fled the first volcanic eruption and will extend this assistance to the new arrivals as well.

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