Residents flee as volcano erupts in Congo, lava engulfs major highway

Residents flee as volcano erupts in Congo, lava engulfs major highway”

Rwanda's Ministry in Charge of Emergency Management said more than 3,500 Congolese have crossed the border.

The last time Nyiragongo erupted was in January 2002, when hundreds of people died when lava and ash covered large parts of eastern Goma, and hundreds of thousands of people fled the city.

Even before the official announcement on Saturday, thousands of people had started filling the streets and carrying what they could as they headed out of the city, which has already suffered from previous eruptions.

According to an AFP correspondent at the scene, the molten rock, which the eruption had sent close to Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu, still appeared unstable, but had come to a standstill in the suburbs of the eastern city. "The government is discussing urgent measures to take immediately", government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter.

Earlier, General Constant Ndima, military governor of North Kivu province, of which Goma is capital, appealed for calm and urged people to follow the guidance of civil protection units.

Even before the official eviction order was issued, people fled their homes in the city of almost 2 million people.

Witnesses, though, said lava had engulfed one highway that connects Goma with the city of Beni in North Kivu province and had reached Goma's airport.

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The Virunga Park official said Sunday "the flow is also descending on the town. It has now reached the airport", he said.

"The eruption of Nyiragongo is similar to the eruption in 2002", he said, asking all local residents near the airport to "evacuate without delay".

Lava could be seen between buildings in the city.

Goma, a lakeside city of about 2 million people, was thrown into panic on Saturday evening as the nearby Mount Nyiragongo erupted, turning the night sky an eerie red. There is a blackout in most parts of the city and thousands of residents left their homes with news of "giant flames" coming from the mountain.

Goma sits along the border between Congo and neighboring Rwanda, and is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as the United Nations peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.

"There are a lot of people on the road, a lot of cars, it's an escape", one man with his family in his vehicle told AFP.

Residents reported the smell of sulphur in the air and watched as the sky turned red.

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