Mount Nyiragongo in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted on Saturday, scaring away panicked residents of the nearby town of Goma, though a volcanologist said said the city did not appear to be in danger.
People grabbed mattresses and other personal effects and fled to the border with neighboring Rwanda as a red glow filled the sky above the city.
Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist in the lakeside town of about 2 million people, told Reuters that Goma did not appear to be in danger and that lava appeared to be flowing east towards the Rwandan border. Previously, he had said he thought lava might hit Goma, but later said it didn’t.
“I can see tall lava fountains,” Tedesco told Reuters.
A United Nations source said a reconnaissance flight by a United Nations helicopter appeared to show that lava was not flowing towards Goma or major population centers.
Nyiragongo last erupted in 2002, killing 250 people and leaving 120,000 homeless after lava poured into Goma.
“The government is closely monitoring the situation in Goma,” Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter.
“The local authorities are currently assessing the situation with the volcanological observatory in Goma … The population is encouraged to remain calm.”
Volcano watchers have expressed concern that the volcanic activity observed over the past five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that of the years preceding the 1977 and 2002 eruptions.
Volcanologists at the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG), which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to carry out basic checks since the World Bank cut funding amid allegations of embezzlement.