Lava destroys homes in DR Congo after volcanic eruption

(AP) - Lava from a volcanic eruption in DR Congo has destroyed homes on the outskirts of Goma but the city of two million has been mostly spared after thousands fled in the night.

Residents said there was little warning before the dark sky turned a fiery red, leading to fears that the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo could cause the same kind of devastation as the last time in 2002 when hundreds died.

There was no official word on deaths or injuries amid the scramble to flee the city late on Saturday.

Lava from the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo is seen in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma, Congo in the early hours of Sunday, May 23, 2021. Congo's Mount Nyiragongo erupted for the first time in nearly two decades Saturday, turning the night sky a fiery red and sending lava onto a major highway as panicked residents tried to flee Goma, a city of nearly 2 million. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Lava from the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo is seen in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma, Congo in the early hours of Sunday, May 23, 2021. Congo's Mount Nyiragongo erupted for the first time in nearly two decades Saturday, turning the night sky a fiery red and sending lava onto a major highway as panicked residents tried to flee Goma, a city of nearly 2 million. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

The UN peacekeeping mission said that it did not appear the lava was flowing towards Goma based on reconnaissance flights but untold thousands still set off in search of safety.

Some boarded boats on to Lake Kivu while others attempted to reach Mount Goma, the highest point in the area. At least 3,000 fled across the nearby border into Rwanda.

On Sunday, residents ventured out to assess the damage after a night of panic. Smoke rose from smouldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near the city.

“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighbourhood,” 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 check the damages caused by lava from the overnight eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma, Congo in the early hours of Sunday, May 23, 2021. Congo's Mount Nyiragongo erupted for the first time in nearly two decades Saturday, turning the night sky a fiery red and sending lava onto a major highway as panicked residents tried to flee Goma, a city of nearly 2 million. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Residents check the damages caused by lava from the overnight eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma, Congo in the early hours of Sunday, May 23, 2021. Congo's Mount Nyiragongo erupted for the first time in nearly two decades Saturday, turning the night sky a fiery red and sending lava onto a major highway as panicked residents tried to flee Goma, a city of nearly 2 million. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

Elsewhere, witnesses said lava had engulfed a highway connecting Goma with the city of Beni. However, the airport appeared to be spared the same fate as 2002 when lava flowed on to 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 DR Congo is under threat from a myriad of armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.