Thousands flee their homes as lava from Mount Nyirangongo approaches Goma airport.
A river of boiling lava from the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo has come to a halt outside Goma, sparing the city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the military governor of the region said on Sunday.
After a volcanic eruption that sent thousands fleeing during the night, “the lava halted near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma… the city was spared,” said General Constant Ndima, adding that, according to a provisional estimate, “five people were killed” in related accidents.
On Saturday, thousands fled during the night and many families slept on pavements surrounded by their belongings under a night sky turned red by fire and fumes.
Officials said the lava had reached Goma city airport although residents said it had stopped at the edge of the facility.
Goma appeared relatively calm as dawn broke, but people said they are still wary.
Residents said there was little warning before the dark sky turned a fiery red, leading to fears that the eruption could cause the same kind of devastation as the last time in 2002 when hundreds died.
On Sunday, residents ventured out to assess the damage after a night of panic. Smoke rose from smoldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near the city.
Beatrice Katungu, 47, says her husband and eight of her 10 children are missing.
“I don’t know what happened and if they were burned by the lava because the eruption occurred in the evening,” Katungu told Al Jazeera.
“Some people returned to their homes on Sunday morning but unfortunately my family hasn’t.”
Florence Rudasigara, another victim of the eruption, told Al Jazeera no officials have yet come to help her.
“I am a widow. I don’t know where to go. May the government help us. We have not seen any officials come to sympathise with us. We have been abandoned,” Rudasigara said. “We are going to die of hunger. ”
By early Sunday, between 5,000 and 7,000 people had arrived in neighbouring Rwanda, according to the country’s national broadcaster.
The Rwanda Broadcast Agency tweeted photos of those arriving in Rubavu district but said early on Sunday that the evacuees had already begun heading home.
“At the moment, the Congolese who had evacuated into Rwanda because of the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption are returning to their homeland. It appears that the eruption has stopped,” it tweeted.
The first departures from Goma came even before the official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted at approximately 7:00pm Saturday.
Power was already out in large parts of the city when hundreds of residents began leaving their homes.
Some headed out of the southern end of the city towards the nearby border post with Rwanda, while others headed west towards Sake, in the neighbouring Congolese region of Masisi.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said he would “interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid”.
In a May 10 report, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.
The last time Nyiragongo erupted was January 17, 2002, killing 250 people, displacing 120,000 others and covering almost all of the eastern part of Goma with lava, including half of the airport’s landing strip.
During that eruption, the victims were mostly sick or elderly people abandoned to their fate in the northern districts of the city with some looting also taking place.
Additional reporting by Esdras Tsongo in Goma