DR Congo mulls return to volcano city

The province's military governor 'has asked the appropriate services to carry out an on-site visit to assess the possibility of a likely progressive return of the evacuated population,' the statement said.

Congolese fleeing from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), sleep with their belongings on a street after the Nyiragongo volcano erupted near the border in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on May 23, 2021. Picture: Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP

GOMA, DR Congo - Authorities in eastern DR Congo said on Thursday they were looking at a "progressive return" of inhabitants to the city of Goma, which was evacuated last week over fears of a volcanic eruption.

"Seismic data recorded on Wednesday attest to a significant fall in magnitude and earth tremors," the crisis management cell in North Kivu province said in a daily statement.

The province's military governor "has asked the appropriate services to carry out an on-site visit to assess the possibility of a likely progressive return of the evacuated population," it said.

The crisis cell called on the public, in the meawhile, to "remain vigilant".

Goma lies on the shores of Lake Kivu, just a dozen or so kilometres (nine miles) from Mount Nyiragongo, Africa's most active volcano.

Nyiragongo suddenly erupted on May 22, spewing out two rivers of lava before stopping the next day.

But powerful aftershocks followed, causing several buildings to collapse and triggering panic among the population, while scientists said they feared a potentially catastrophic eruption under the lake.

In their worst projection, a "limnic eruption" would heat carbon dioxide dissolved in the depths of the lake, sending the gas to the surface.

Forming a vast, invisible cloud, the gas could settle at ground level on the city, asphyxiating inhabitants, according to this scenario.

In response, the provincial authorities on May 27 ordered the evacuation of most of the city's districts. Around 400,000 people, out of a population of 600,000, were uprooted.

Some 120,000 arrived in the town of Sake, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) to the west, while thousands more fled to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi, just across the border to the east.

However, some started to come back last weekend. On Thursday, many parts of Goma seemed back to normal, with traffic jams in the city centre.

Thirty-two people passed away from lava burns or asphyxiation after the May 22-23 eruption, and two more died in accidents during the exodus.

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