Mount Nyiragongo in Congo erupted suddenly Saturday night, turning the sky a fiery red, sending lava spilling down its sides and threatening the major city of Goma.
Overnight, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the region reported during a reconnaissance flight that the lava didn't appear to be flowing toward Goma, a city of nearly 2 million on the edge of Lake Kivu. But still, thousands evacuated — many across the border into Rwanda — remembering the widespread devastation that the last eruption in 2002 caused, when reports of the death toll ranged into the hundreds and tens of thousands of homes were lost.
🚨🚨Activité volcanique aux alentours de Goma: la MONUSCO fait des vols de reconnaissance.— MONUSCO (@MONUSCO) May 22, 2021
La lave ne semble pas se diriger vers la ville de Goma. Nous restons en alerte. pic.twitter.com/JQmz7v16Ne
By Sunday morning, officials said the lava flow had slowed, and local journalists reported that it had stopped just a few hundred meters from Goma's city limits. The nearby airport was spared as well.
But the molten earth flow did cross a main road out of the city, cutting it off from the north and leaving many people stranded as they tried to return to their homes and assess the damage. It is still unclear if any died in the scramble to flee or from the lava flow itself.
"We've been extremely lucky that it was very brief," Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in Goma, told Reuters. "From the little information we have, it was just the lava within the crater that came out, there was no additional lava from below."
Mount Nyiragongo is considered one the most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted dozens of times since 1882, and its steep sides mean that lava flows tend to be uniquely fast-moving. Experts have been watching it for years, worried about the next eruption.