More than 500 homes were destroyed as shads of lava poured into villages in eastern Congo with little warning, leaving at least 15 people dead, officials and survivors have said.
The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on Saturday night sent about 5,000 people fleeing from the city of Goma across the nearby border into Rwanda, while another 25,000 others sought refuge to the northwest in Sake, the UN children’s agency said Sunday.
More than 170 children were still feared missing Sunday and UNICEF officials said they were organizing transit centers to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.
Goma ultimately was largely spared the mass destruction it suffered the last time the volcano erupted back in 2002.
On Sunday, residents ventured out to assess the damage after a night of panic. Smoke rose from smoldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near the city.
“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighborhood,” Innocent Bahala Shamavu a resident said.
“All the houses in Buhene neighborhood were burned and that’s why we are asking all the provincial authorities and authorities at the national level as well as all the partners, all the people of good faith in the world, to come to the aid of this population.”
Elsewhere witnesses said lava had engulfed one highway connecting Goma with the city of Beni. However, the airport appeared to be spared the same fate as 2002 when lava flowed onto the runways.
Goma is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as the U.N. peacekeeping mission. While Goma is home to many U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers, much of surrounding eastern Congo is under threat from a myriad of armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.