Residents of DR Congo's Goma face further uncertainty after volcanic eruption

Left: A screen capture from a video shows residents of Goma sleeping outside. Right: Our Observer Messager Takehya Nzanzu on the mass of lava left behind after the eruption near Goma.
Left: A screen capture from a video shows residents of Goma sleeping outside. Right: Our Observer Messager Takehya Nzanzu on the mass of lava left behind after the eruption near Goma. © Twitter/Messager Takehya Nzanzu

When Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted on May 22, thousands of people fled the nearby city of Goma. Some of them came home  to destroyed homes, power cuts and water shortages but planned to rebuild. However, recurring seismic shocks and the risk of further eruptions led authorities on May 27 to order tens of thousands of people to leave Goma once more. Our Observers shared images of the city taken during their brief return home.

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During the night of May 22, panicked residents of Goma fled west or tried to cross the nearby border with Rwanda to the east. There had been no warning from the Goma Volcanic Observatory, which is tasked with surveilling the volcanic situation and alerting the public to problems, about the imminent eruption. It was later discovered that the regional observatory hadn’t been working for months due to a lack of funding.

Although the lava flows stopped just short of the city, Goma’s residents were still wary: recurrent seismic tremors continued to destabilise buildings, making some at risk of collapse. As a result, many families chose to sleep outside. These ongoing risks, as well as the chance of further eruptions, have forced authorities to order the evacuation of part of the city of Goma, causing the immediate departure of tens of thousands of people.

This tweet reads: “We’re sleeping outside… scared of tremors and buildings collapsing #Goma #volcano There are too many repeated tremors."

At least 32 people have died in events linked to the eruption, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR. Seven people were killed by lava, while five died from suffocation. 

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. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

The day after the eruption, the situation in the city was chaotic. The main road linking the town to the rest of the region was cut off by a river of lava, disrupting the provision of aid supplies. Regular aftershocks were still affecting the area five days after the eruption, on May 27.

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. © Serge Byemba

Our Observer, the journalist Alain Wandimoyi, took photos of huge cracks that had appeared in the ground and in buildings on May 24 and 25.

'We quickly realised that a long struggle was just beginning'

Messager Takehya Nzanzu
IT Engineer
Goma, DR Congo

Our Observer, Messager Takehya Nzanzu, a 24-year-old IT engineer, had to leave his home in the Majengo neighbourhood of Goma the night of the eruption.  

I started to see people fleeing at around 6pm. I formed a group of about a dozen people with my neighbours and we left at around 10pm in the direction of Saké [23km to the west of Goma].

We stopped halfway and slept outside. It was a scene of total panic, people were carrying their belongings with them, leaving with their children. And suddenly it started raining, making the whole situation even more difficult.

This Tweet reads: "Families are spending the night outside. Men, women and children are sleeping on the ground on roads in Goma with no useful information. They’re waiting to be evacuated by the Goma Volcanic Observatory."

 

Early on Sunday morning I went back home and found my neighbourhood spared from destruction but totally deserted. Just three kilometres away, several houses had been engulfed in lava.

The still-smoking lava from Mount Nyiragongo, near Goma, May 23, 2021.
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. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

We quickly realised that a long struggle was just beginning: electricity pylons had been carried away by the lava so there’s almost no electricity, drinking water is hard to find, the main national road has been destroyed and lots of people have lost their homes.

There’s no electricity at my house, for example. Luckily, a neighbour has a solar panel and I was able to charge my phone at his place overnight. In the street you come across lots of people with their belongings. Fortunately I’ve noticed that there’s been a real wave of solidarity, and most of the people affected by this have found people to stay with in Goma.

Since the eruption there have been constant seismic shocks. I’m ok, my house is made of wood and so it won’t collapse [Editor's note: wooden buildings absorb seismic tremors better because wood is a more flexible material than concrete]. But people living in houses made of long-lasting materials like concrete, particularly in the city centre, live in constant fear that their house is going to crumble around them. Some people prefer sleeping outside without any shelter.  

Consequences of the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, May 25, 2021.
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. © Messager Takehya Nzanzu

With most of Goma under new evacuation orders, it is unclear when the city's residents will return. But according to Messager Takehya Nzanzu, residents of Goma will be seeking accountability from authorities once they are able to return safely to their homes.

Once this period of panic is over, I think there will be anger towards the Goma Volcanic Observatory, which failed in its mission and put the population in danger. People are already talking about it and asking questions.