100,000 trapped by Congo volcano disaster

Declan Walsh
Sunday 20 January 2002 01:00
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Fears were growing last night for more than 100,000 people unaccounted for after the eruption of the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in eastern Congo, which has devastated the town of Goma and sent another 300,000 victims fleeing into neighbouring Rwanda.

Fears were growing last night for more than 100,000 people unaccounted for after the eruption of the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in eastern Congo, which has devastated the town of Goma and sent another 300,000 victims fleeing into neighbouring Rwanda.

While some people escaped into the surrounding jungle and others crowded on to boats crossing Lake Kivu, tens of thousands more are feared trapped between at least three rivers of molten rock streaming from central Africa's most dangerous volcano. Late yesterday observers flying over the area reported that lava was pouring from a new fissure, forming a cone six miles east of Nyiragongo.

One stream of lava has cut Goma in two, covering the runway of the airport and destroying the Roman Catholic cathedral along with the central business district and an estimated 10,000 homes. Another is flowing from a fissure in the base of the volcano, cutting off escape to the west. So far the official death toll stands at only 40, but Adolphe Onusumba, leader of the Rwandan-backed Congolese rebel group that controls Goma, said nearly two-fifths of the city's population were marooned by the lava without drinkable water or electricity.

Aid agencies from Britain and several other countries rushed relief workers and supplies to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi, just across the border from Goma, where a humanitarian crisis was rapidly developing. "There is no food, no water, no accommodation. Things are out of control and people do not know what to do," said Bishop John Rucyahana. The British government pledged £2m to the relief effort, and Oxfam flew water equipment from Britain in an attempt to avoid the threat of epidemics.

The problems for arriving aid workers were further compounded by a series of earth tremors that violently shook buildings in Gisenyi, causing at least one to collapse.

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