The death toll in the wake of a volcano eruption in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to 20 after five people were found dead due to toxic fumes. Strong aftershocks continued to hit Goma, a city of 1.5 million people, after Nyiragongo erupted on Saturday.
Those whose homes were not destroyed by lava have returned, after some 30,000 people fled the erupting Nyiragongo in the restive Goma area. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates some 900 homes were affected by the volcano. The evaluation is to continue.
“That doesn’t mean they are not exposed to risks in the areas where they are returning, which include toxic gases, and the continuous earthquakes we’re feeling in the area,” Rui Oliveira, Africa programmes and operations manager for ICRC tells RFI from Goma.
Volcanologist Kasereka Mahinda, who flew over the volcano on Monday, said it was uncertain why the aftershocks were continuing and he was unsure if the volcanic activity had ceased.
“Because of the fog we were unable to see the inside of the crater,” the scientific director of the Goma Volcanology Observatory told AFP newswire.
Thousands of residents of east Democratic Republic of Congo return to Goma, after the river of lava from the eruption of mount Nyiragongo volcano halts. pic.twitter.com/cUjhC1ZRSb— MwanzoTV (@MwanzoTv) May 23, 2021
According to Congolese officials, some 17 villages around Goma were affected by the eruption.
Government officials, including seven ministers, arrived from the Congolese capital Kinshasa early Monday. President Felix Tshisekedi altered his European tour plans to return home and deal with the aid operation to the region.
Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani said upon arrival in Goma that the delegation was assessing how the government could help those made homeless by the natural disaster.
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Of the 30,000 who are displaced, some 8,000 have crossed the border to neighbouring Rwanda. Many are without shelter and sleeping outside.
As in many emergency situations, water access is important for those directly affected by the volcano. However, the eruption cut the main water system for Goma – one quarter of the population doesn’t have access to water, says Oliveira.
“They could start using unsafe water sources, which raise any risk of public health outbreak as well,” he said, adding that the lava will interfere with the water quality.
Unaccompanied children and child protection is a major concern for the ICRC. The NGO has volunteers in every community in and around Goma, and one facility is currently hosting some 60 children who have lost track of their relatives.
“We have received reports of at least an additional 300 who are missing or who have lost their families,” says Oliveira.
For now, the ICRC is organising a comprehensive emergency response, including water, hygiene promotion, shelter, and food if necessary.
Nyiragongo’s last major eruption, in 2002, claimed around 100 lives.