Lieut Gen Constant Ndima Kongba, the governor of the North Kivu province, ordered the evacuation of the majority of the city on Thursday night, with residents advised not to return to their homes until further notice.
“Right now we can’t rule out an eruption on land or under [Lake Kivu] about two million.
Mount Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active volcano, erupted on May 22nd. At least 32 people died, while lava destroyed about 1,000 homes and six schools across four villages, and cut off water supplies and power to hundreds of thousands.
“If it were to fully erupt, we would have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands. Sixty per cent of the people coming across the border into Rwanda are children. They are tired, hungry and scared, and our teams are working around the clock to meet their needs.”
At least 3,000 people, including 1,800 children, crossed into Rwanda between Thursday and Friday, according to Save the Children. One in seven were girls or women, the charity said.
Families have been split in the chaos. In just 48 hours, nearly 550 children were separated from their families, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide evacuated 71 of its staff from Goma.
“When the eruption started last Saturday there was an absolute wave of panic in the streets,” said Marie d’Argentre, its DRC programme director, who spoke by phone from the Rwandan capital Kigali.
“Very quickly everyone realised that because of the [geography] of Goma there are no good options for escape, no good routes.”
She said people had either crossed Lake Kivu, gone east to Rwanda, or west, with many reaching the town of Sake, 13km away.
“They’re gathered in several sites but they’re not well organised at the moment,” said Ms d’Argentre.
“It’s an area very prone to cholera and they have very limited resources. We’ve already seen prices increasing. If people stay in Sake we will evolve towards a camp management system. They have no shelter, they’ve left with mattresses on their heads, buckets in their hands . . . some didn’t have anything to carry things so they left with the basic minimum.”
In the days after the volcanic eruption “the risk was still here, the earth was shaking very often, some old buildings collapsed”.
She said the order came through to evacuate at 2am on Thursday.
“The earthquakes were getting stronger, we could hear the dogs screaming in the street ... The people left [in Goma] say it’s still a ghost town.”
Mount Nyiragongo’s last eruption was in 2002. It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.