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Volcanic eruption, ensuing chaos in Congo kills at least 15

Torrents of lava poured into villages after dark in eastern Congo with little warning, leaving at least 15 people dead amid the chaos and destroying more than 500 homes, officials and survivors said Sunday.

Lava from Mount Nyiragongo sent thousands fleeing from city of Goma

Torrents of lava poured into villages after dark in eastern Congo with little warning, leaving at least 15 people dead amid the chaos and destroying more than 500 homes, officials and survivors said Sunday.

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 United Nations 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 caused by the volcano's last eruption in 2002. Hundreds died then and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. But in outlying villages closer to the volcano, Sunday was marked by grief and uncertainty.

WATCH | Volcanic eruption in Democratic Republic of the Congo forces thousands to flee:

Volcanic eruption in Congo forces thousands to flee

CBC News

2 months ago
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As the red glow of Mount Nyiragongo tinged the night sky above the city of Goma, thousands of residents carrying mattresses and other belongings fled the city. 0:57

Aline Bichikwebo and her baby managed to escape when the lava flow reached her village, but said both her mother and father were among those who perished. Community members gave a provisional toll of 10 dead in Bugamba alone, though provincial authorities said it was too soon to know how many lives were lost.

Bichikwebo says she tried to rescue her father but wasn't strong enough to move him to safety before the family's home was ignited by lava.

"I am asking for help because everything we had is gone," she said, clutching her baby. "We don't even have a pot. We are now orphans and we have nothing."

Residents check the damage caused by lava from the overnight eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma, early Sunday. (Justin Kabumba/The Associated Press)

The air remained thick with smoke because of how many homes had caught fire when the lava came.

"People are still panicking and are hungry," resident Alumba Sutoye said. "They don't even know where they are going to spend the night."

Elsewhere, authorities said at least five other people had died in a truck crash while they were trying to evacuate Goma, but the scale of the loss had yet to be determined in some of the hardest-hit communities.

Little warning before eruption, residents say

Residents said there was little warning before the dark sky turned a fiery red, sending people running for their lives in all directions. Smoke rose from smouldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near the city.

"We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighborhood," said Innocent Bahala Shamavu. "All the houses in Buhene neighbourhood 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."

Residents stand next to destroyed structures and smouldering ash early Sunday on the outskirts of Goma. (Moses Sawasawa/AFP/Getty Images)

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 in 2002, when lava flowed onto the runways.

Goma is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as the UN peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO. While Goma is home to many UN peacekeepers and aid workers, much of surrounding eastern Congo is under threat from myriad armed groups vying for control of the region's mineral resources.

With files from Reuters

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