Thousands have fled a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the flaming lava from Mount Nyiragongo appeared to have come to a halt on the outskirts of Goma city early Sunday.
According to an AFP correspondent at the scene, the molten rock, which the eruption had sent close to Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu, still appeared unstable, but had come to a standstill in the suburbs of the eastern city.
And around a dozen earth tremors were felt in the early hours.
“People are beginning to return to their homes. The situation seems to have calmed down for the moment,” one resident said.
“But people are still scared. The authorities still haven’t made any official announcement so far this morning,” he added.
Thousands had fled during the night and many families slept on pavements surrounded by their belongings under a night sky turned red by fire and fumes.
“There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain,” one resident, Carine Mbala, told AFP.
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.
‘Not sure it’s over’
“People are wondering whether the volcano has stopped, or whether it will continue, whether the lava will reappear,” one resident said.
A few cars were seen on the streets, but no police or military presence was visible.
“We’re not convinced that the eruption is over in just a day. We’re waiting,” said one man.
On Saturday, Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya had said that the government had activated an evacuation plan and was “discussing the urgent measures to take at present.”
Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, had said he would “interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid”.
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 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 city came even before the official confirmation that Mount Nyiragongo had erupted at around 7:00 pm Saturday, spewing red fumes into the night sky.