On Saturday night (22nd May) the sky above Goma turned red as lava began streaming from Mount Nyiragongo (only 12km away) leading thousands of people to begin fleeing the city.
In a similar eruption in 2002, lava flows did reach Goma, killing 250 people and leaving 120,000 homeless.
Two of our ministry partners HEAL Africa and Ephphatha Centre for the Deaf are based in Goma.
They are both situated in parts of the city that were heavily impacted by the 2002 eruption – HEAL Africa’s hospital was severely damaged by the eruption and had to be rebuilt, and Ephphatha’s centre sits directly in the path taken by the lava flow – so they were understandably terrified during the initial eruption.
Thankfully, this time the lava flow stopped on the outskirts of town but there has still been significant loss. According to the government, the lava destroyed seventeen villages, three health centres, a primary school and a water pipeline. The latest reports say that 32 people have died, tens of thousands are homeless, and hundreds (including over 100 children) are still missing from their families.
While the initial eruption was not as damaging as first feared, the situation remains challenging and unstable.
In the days following the eruption we received this update from HEAL’s executive office coordinator, Pytchen Kalonda:
“Many thanks for your prayers and support.
“All the praises to God who protected the town as lava flows stopped in the peripheral quarter at about 1km from Goma airport. However, 5 members of HEAL Africa staff lost their houses in the lava flow.
“We had to evacuate the majority of patients at the HEAL Africa hospital (there are patients who could not be evacuated, and they are still at the hospital [editor’s note: this is no longer the case see update below for more details]) as well as sensitive equipment and some important medicines.
“Right now, the hospital is functioning on an emergency basis, with only emergency surgeries (e.g caesarean sections) being done. Outpatients are being served too.
“The situation here in Goma is still critical though because of the earthquakes.
“Since the eruption there have been seismic shakes [earthquakes] every 5-10 minutes.
“Yesterday it got worse, with the Goma Volcano Observatory Office (OVG) registered 90 earthquakes. Many of those were high magnitude. Buildings are being damaged, and many houses destroyed (with many people being injured in the damage). We aren’t able to enter the office today because of these earthquakes.
“Fissures are opening up in the ground in town. This has created more panic as people think that maybe lava will flow out from them. People are also sleeping in the streets at night because they are afraid to be in their houses.
It’s these fissures that prompted the local government to order a full evacuation of the city on Thursday (27th May). It appears that magma is continuing to move (through these fissures) towards the nearby Lake Kivu and the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) is concerned that lava may rise to the surface in the streets of Goma or, in a worst-case-scenario, if it reaches the lake it may cause a limnic eruption, which could send debris flying and emit toxic gas over a huge area.
HEAL and Ephphatha have followed evacuation orders and, along with at least 400,000 local residents, are now seeking a safe place to stay until the seismic activity calms down and they are allowed to return home.
This is a huge humanitarian crisis and there are many dangers in place beyond just the volcano. There are water access and safety concerns, with people potentially turning to Lake Kivu, which is known to be contaminated with cholera. There are also over 100 violent militia groups active in the region, likely to target those who are fleeing for safety. Locals are also concerned that they may return to find their homes looted or destroyed.
- Ephphatha would be able to continue supporting the deaf community to evacuate safely.
- HEAL can continue doing everything they can to ensure that vulnerable patients are followed up and receive care (e.g. implementing triage measures to ensure that the most critical patients have been relocated to safer zones, establishing alternate sites and working with other hospitals in the region).
- the seismic activity would cease and that the magma flow would stop before reaching Lake Kivu.
- the people of Goma would be kept safe from violence during this time and be able to return to their homes soon.
- God might support HEAL and Ephphatha as they serve their communities at this time and upon their return to Goma.