Congo to begin phased return of residents to volcano-hit city

This aerial photo taken on May 30, 2021 shows the column of ash expelled from the crater of Nyiragongo volcano, north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. (ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

Democratic Republic of Congo will start a phased return of residents who fled Goma in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption that destroyed thousands of homes and threatened to overrun the city, the government said on Monday.

Less than a week after the initial eruption on 22 May, which only just stopped short of the city limits, around 400 000 people scrambled to leave when the government warned underground tremors could cause a new eruption, or trigger the release of toxic gases.

The tremors have since subsided, and many people have returned to Goma. About 245 000 remain displaced in nearby towns and villages, according to the latest survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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The government said it would provide buses and trucks beginning on Tuesday to help people return.

But Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde told journalists that sites on the outskirts of Goma that were destroyed by the eruption could no longer be inhabited.

“We must learn from the 2002 and 2021 eruptions so that our populations are never again so close to danger,” Lukonde said.

Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, had last erupted in 2002, killing more 200 people and sending lava gushing through Goma.

Last month’s eruption killed at least 31.

On Saturday, the government re-opened Goma’s airport, which is eastern Congo’s main hub for delivering aid to the strife-torn region.

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People made homeless by the eruption would be temporarily rehoused and given assistance to rebuild, the government said in a statement.

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