“The evacuation plan for the city of Goma has been activated,” Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya announced on Saturday as red-hot lava was making its way towards the eastern city of 670,000.
Before the official announcement, residents began grabbing their belongings and fleeing in panic, with some crossing into neighboring Rwanda. The Rwanda Broadcasting Agency reported that between 5,000 and 7,000 people arrived from Congo overnight.
The volcano, which is located around 10km (6 miles) north of Goma, started to erupt at around 7pm local time on Saturday. People reported that the sky turned bright red and that they could smell sulfur in the air.
Dramatic videos from the scene show burning lava creeping onto a highway and slowly devouring a house.
Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in Goma, told Reuters that Goma is “the target” to which the lava is currently flowing. “It’s similar to 2002. I think that the lava is going towards the city center,” he said, referring to the last eruption, when lava covered almost all of the eastern part of Goma and 250 were killed.
Tedesco also said the lava “might stop before [the city] or go on,” adding that it is difficult to forecast its movement.