The situation is “under control” following the eruption of a volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Felix Tshisekedi said on Saturday after his government mistakenly announced another volcano had erupted.
A week after Mount Nyiragongo roared back into life, causing devastation and sparking a mass exodus, “the situation is certainly serious but it is under control,” Tshisekedi told a news conference.
Around 400,000 residents have evacuated the eastern city of Goma after a week of rolling aftershocks following the eruption of Africa’s most active volcano.
“There is an underground lava flow that can arise anytime anywhere in the city,” Tshisekedi warned, strongly advising against people returning to Goma.
“The lava is no longer in the crater, but the volcano remains active, so we have to be wary and that’s why we don’t want to rush things by bringing back the populations,” he said.
His comments came after more than 1,000 refugees left a camp in Rwanda to return to DR Congo on Saturday.
Earlier in the day the DRC’s government announced that another volcano had erupted, later admitting it was a false alarm,
The blunder comes as the government is increasingly criticised over a looming humanitarian crisis.
“A plane has just flown over the entire area on the sides of this volcano. No eruption was observed,” it added.
The Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) confirmed that while there was “intense activity” at Nyamuragira, “there has been no eruption”.
‘Limnic eruption’ fears
Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, lies on the shores of Lake Kivu in the shadow of Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active volcano.
Last Saturday the strato-volcano spewed rivers of lava that claimed nearly three dozen lives and destroyed the homes of 20,000 people before the eruption stopped.
Hundreds of aftershocks have rocked the region since, but the OVG said Saturday they had significantly decreased in both number and intensity over the past 48 hours.
The OVG’s latest report said that 61 earthquakes had shaken the area in the previous 24 hours.
It said the quakes were “consistent with the continued movement of magma in the Nyiragongo fissure system towards Lake Kivu”.
Scientists have warned of a potentially catastrophic scenario – a “limnic eruption” which occurs when lava combines with a deep lake and spews out lethal gas across a potentially large area.
However the OVG report said a “landslide or large earthquake destabilising the deep waters of the lake causing the emergence of dissolved gases” was now much less likely, though it still “cannot be excluded”.
Around 80,000 households – 400,000 inhabitants – have moved out of Goma since Thursday, when a “preventative” evacuation order was given.