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20,000 homeless, dozens missing in wake of DR Congo volcano: UN

The satellite image released on May 25, 2021 by Maxar Technologies shows an overview before the eruption of the Mt Nyiragongo volcano near Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which sent lava toward the city on May 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

More than 20,000 people are homeless and 40 are still missing in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption which killed dozens in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN humanitarian agency says.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Wednesday the volcanic eruption was still triggering strong earthquakes in the nearby city of Goma, the main hub for aid operations in the east. More than 200 small and medium earthquakes since Saturday’s eruption have damaged buildings and streets in Goma.

The ash cloud caused by the eruption has closed down airports in Goma and Bukavu, and is likely to cause respiratory diseases, it added.

People who fled their homes have lost valuable possessions, including motorcycles that were either consumed by the lava flow or looted, the UN body said.

The death toll from the eruption rose to 32 on Tuesday.

The eruption sent rivers of lava streaming down the hillside from Mount Nyiragongo, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands to flee, but stopped 300 meters short of Goma airport.

People look at a crack on the road caused by earth tremors following the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo volcano near Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Photo by Reuters)

The cracks, about 60 centimeters wide in some places, have caused panic among residents unsure if the danger has passed.

"Yesterday it was very small, here it is just opposite my house, but today it has widened," a local resident was quoted as saying. "It's scary. We fear it can collapse and our children can fall in."

"It scares me because those who saw the 2002 eruption told us that where a crack passes, it will be catastrophic. Now, when we see a fissure after a recent eruption, I'm worried that we are in danger."

The government officials who visited Goma on Monday announced several relief measures including paying for victims’ funerals as well as psychological counselling and emergency repairs of damaged infrastructure. 

But residents remain jittery. Hundreds are sheltering in a Rwandan refugee camp, and many are continuing to flee.

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