Volcanic eruption in DR Congo could spew deadly gases from Lake Kivu, 600,000 people evacuated

Thousands of people have fled the Congolese city of Goma after the region’s governor ordered partial evacuations and scientists warned of a potentially catastrophic volcanic eruption that could blanket the area with deadly gas.

Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was almost deserted Friday morning: stores closed, only a few people on the streets.

Ndima Kongba, governor of North Kivu province, on Thursday ordered the evacuation of the city of 600,000 people amid fears of further volcanic activity after Saturday’s eruption.

Many people were forced to flee on foot, carrying as much of their belongings as possible. The city’s infrastructure was also blocked, with hundreds of thousands of people trying to leave the city as quickly as possible, including hundreds of U.N. employees and their relatives.

The road to Sake, where much of the city was evacuated, was blocked in both directions, with cars, vans and people on foot in the chaos.

Local media reported that many people arriving at the port of Etoile du Kivu were without documents or money for travel. Those in charge at the port said they were obliged to accept undocumented passengers for humanitarian reasons.

Scientists monitoring the volcano have warned of a potentially catastrophic eruption that could release deadly invisible gases choking people and livestock with carbon dioxide from Lake Kivu.

This type of natural disaster is rare, but can be very deadly. It occurred in Cameroon in 1986, when a gas release from Lake Nyos killed about 1,800 people and thousands of cattle.

Kongba said Thursday that scientists believe large deposits of magma have formed under the city and part of Lake Kivu, indicating that an eruption could occur on land or under the lake without warning. Earthquakes occur in the city: The Nyiragongo volcano erupted again last week.

Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active volcano, erupted on Saturday, killing 32 people and destroying many villages.

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