U.S. Mission in DRC raises red alert over volcanic eruptions of Mount Nyiragongo

The U.S. Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week issued a a security alert to American citizens, following Mount Nyiragongo volcanic eruptions that have led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people in parts of the city of Goma.

The U.S. Mission reminded residents and American citizens that although the border with Rwanda remained open, travelers must cross by foot, and that Goma and Bukavu airports remained closed. 

“Earthquakes and seismic activity, including the release of harmful gases from fissures, continue as a result of the May 22 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo.  There are reports of damage from the earthquakes throughout the city, including of buildings and streets,” the U.S. Embassy said. “Remain vigilant, monitor local media, and follow instructions of local authorities.  Avoid all areas considered “Red Zones” by local authorities.  U.S. citizens who feel unsafe should consider departing Goma. Goma Airport remains closed until further notice per DRC Civil Aviation authorities. Ferries are operating as normal between Goma and Bukavu.  The road to Sake remains open.”

U.S. Embassy Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo 
U.S. Embassy Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

U.S. citizens were encouraged to report their whereabouts and requests for assistance to the U.S. Embassy at ACSKinshasa@state.gov.

Multiple volcanic eruptions at Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo have created a smoldering ghost town in Goma, the once-bustling city of just under 700,000 people. 

The United Nations has expressed great concern over the health risk posed to those still in the area due to dangerous smoke and fume inhalation, leaving little choice but to flee to an area known for cholera outbreaks. Volcanic ash consists of microscopic solid crystalline rock and glass particles, and eruptions, like the one that took place this week in the DRC,  release vast quantities of carbon and sulfur dioxide, making the situation is dire. 

U.S. Embassy Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo 
U.S. Embassy Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

“With an increased risk of a cholera outbreak, we are appealing for urgent international assistance to avert what could be a catastrophe for children,” UNICEF’s representative in Congo, Edouard Beigbeder, said.

USAID and other international development organizations have pledged support, but what’s needed now is aid and crisis responders to manage the chaotic disruption. More than half of the population has become internally displaced, more than 3,000 homes destroyed in the burning lava, according to Reuters, and the death toll is still rising as of this morning. 

Mount Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano containing an active lava lake, with an elevation of 3,470 m (11,385 ft), characterized by a steep profile in the Virunga Mountains. It is located about 12 km (7.5 mi) north of Goma and Lake Kivu. Some might wonder why so many people were trapped so quickly seven miles away from the city. 

A person can walk at around “5 km/hr (3.1 miles/hr) and jog at around 11 km/hr (7 miles/hr). In short bursts, humans can run at 32 km/hr (20 miles/hr),” says Geotech. However, much like the formation of Mount Nyiragongo, where lava was moving over a steep slope inside a lava tube, it can move around 30 km/hr (19 miles/hr). 

At the moment, authorities say there is only a slight chance there will be more eruptions. Still, the cleanup and restoration will take time as the focus is now on evacuation, locating missing persons, including 170 missing children, and determining the death toll. 

Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master's degree from Georgetown University.

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