Nyiragongo volcano erupts in Congo

Lava flows struck villages in eastern Congo after dark without warning, killing at least 15 people and destroying more than 500 homes.

The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano Saturday night forced about 5,000 people to flee the town of Goma across the nearby border into Rwanda, and another 25,000 people sought refuge northwest in Sake.

More than 170 children are still missing, and UNICEF officials said they are setting up transit centers to help unaccompanied children after the disaster.

Alina Bichikwebo and her child managed to escape when the lava flow reached her village, but she said her mother and father were among those killed. Community members gave a preliminary death toll of 10 in Bugamba alone, although provincial authorities said it was too early to say how many people were killed.

Bichikwebo says she tried to save her father, but she didn’t have the strength to move him to safety before the family home caught fire from the lava.

“I’m asking for help because everything we had is gone,” she said, cradling her child. “We don’t even have a pot. We are orphans now, and we have nothing.”

There was still thick smoke in the air because many houses caught fire when the lava came.

“People are still panicked and hungry,” said Alumba resident Sutoye. “They don’t even know where they will sleep at night.”

Elsewhere, authorities said at least five more people were killed in a truck crash as they tried to evacuate Goma, but the extent of casualties in some of the hardest-hit communities has yet to be determined.

Residents say there were no warnings before the dark skies turned fiery red, forcing people to flee in all directions. One woman went into labor and gave birth fleeing the eruption in Rwanda, the national broadcaster reported.

Smoke was rising from smoldering piles of lava in the Buhene area near the city on Sunday.

“We witnessed the death of almost an entire neighborhood,” Innocent Bahala Shamavu said. “All the houses in the Buhene district have burned down, and so we are asking all the provincial and national authorities, all the good people in the world to come to the aid of this population.”

Elsewhere, according to witnesses, lava swallowed up one highway connecting Goma with the city of Beni. But the airport appears to have escaped the same fate as in 2002, when lava splashed down on the runways.

Goma is a regional hub for many humanitarian organizations in the region, as well as the UN peacekeeping mission. While Goma is home to many UN peacekeepers and aid workers, much of eastern Congo is threatened by numerous armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.

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