‘We are starving’: Little food for families fleeing DRC volcano

People in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) woke to more powerful tremors on Saturday morning as fleeing families seeking shelter from a feared second volcanic eruption struggled to find enough food and water.

Dozens of people died when Mount Nyiragongo volcano, one of the world’s most active, roared back into life a week ago, sending rivers of lava spreading towards the nearby city of Goma that destroyed thousands of homes along the way. The lava stopped just short of the city limits, but thousands more people fled on Thursday when the government warned that the volcano could erupt again at any time.

Most people have headed to the town of Sake or the Rwandan border in the northeast, while others have fled by boat across Lake Kivu. Nearly 10,000 people are taking refuge in Bukavu on the lake’s southern bank, according to Governor Theo Ngwabidje, many of them in host families.

In Sake, some 20 kilometres (13 miles) northwest of Goma, people slept wherever they could – on the side of the road and inside classrooms and churches.

Kabuo Asifiwe Muliwavyo, 36, said she and her seven children had not eaten since arriving on Thursday.

“They told us that there will be a second eruption and that there will be a big gas explosion,” she told Reuters news agency as she cradled her crying one-year-old.

Evacuee Eugene Kubugoo told AFP news agency the water was giving children diarrhoea and said: “We don’t have anything to eat or any place to sleep.”

Hassan Kanga, a lawyer who fled after the eruption, said: “They told everyone that assistance would be organised, that money would be disbursed by the government.

“And yet, you find us under the stars.”

“With an increased risk of a cholera outbreak, we are appealing for urgent international assistance to avert what could be a catastrophe for children,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s representative in the DRC.

The evacuation order was issued about 1am local time on Thursday after radar images showed molten rock flowing under Goma.

The movement of magma caused cracks in the ground and hundreds of earthquakes, which could allow it to burst through to the surface in a fresh eruption, the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) said.

Volcanologists say the worst-case scenario is of an eruption under the lake. This could release hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are currently dissolved in the water’s depths. The gas would rise to the surface of the lake, forming an invisible cloud that would linger at ground level and displace oxygen, asphyxiating life.

But the frequency and intensity of the ground tremors had lessened in the last 24 hours, suggesting the risk of a fresh eruption was subsiding, Celestin Kasareka Mahinda of the OVG said on Friday.

“I don’t think we will have a second eruption. The problem is the risk of fractures, but the risk is small, around 20 percent,” he told Reuters.

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