Residents in the Democratic Republic of Congo area near Mount Nyiragongo have returned to destroyed houses after a large volcano erupted, with many searching for missing loved ones.
Mount Nyiragongo turned the sky red and spewed out a river of lava on Saturday, but stopped short of Goma, a city of two million just south of the volcano.
At least 15 people died when torrents of lava poured into villages after dark in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, destroying more than 500 homes, officials and survivors said on Sunday.
The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on Saturday night sent about 5,000 people fleeing from the city of Goma across the nearby border into Rwanda, while another 25,000 others sought refuge to the north-west in Sake, the UN children’s agency said on Sunday.
DR Congo volcano: thousands flee as Mount Nyiragongo lava flows destroy homes – video
More than 170 children were still feared missing and Unicef officials said they were organising transit centres to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.
Goma ultimately was largely spared the mass destruction it suffered the last time the volcano erupted in 2002. Hundreds died then and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. But in outlying villages closer to the volcano, Sunday was marked by grief and uncertainty.
Aline Bichikwebo and her baby managed to escape when the lava flow reached her village, but said her mother and father were among those who perished. Community members gave a provisional toll of 10 dead in Bugamba alone, though provincial authorities said it was too soon to know how many have died.
Bichikwebo says she tried to rescue her father but wasn’t strong enough to move him to safety before the family’s home was ignited by lava.
“I am asking for help because everything we had is gone,” she said, clutching her baby. “We don’t even have a pot. We are now orphans and we have nothing.”
The air remained thick with smoke because of how many homes had caught fire from the lava.
“People are still panicking and are hungry,” resident Alumba Sutoye said. “They don’t even know where they are going to spend the night.”
Elsewhere, authorities said at least five other people had died in a lorry crash while they were trying to evacuate Goma, but the scale of the loss had yet to be determined in some of the hardest-hit communities.
Residents said there was little warning before the eruption and on Sunday smoke was still rising from smouldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near Goma.
“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighbourhood,” Innocent Bahala Shamavu said. “All the houses in Buhene neighbourhood were burned.”
Elsewhere, witnesses said lava had engulfed one 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. Much of surrounding eastern Congo is under threat from myriad armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources. – AP/BBC