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A Double Whammy of Volcanic Tremors and Militant Threats in DR Congo

Residents fleeing Nyiragongo volcanic eruption in Goma/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

There is mounting confusion in Goma, a city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that recently experienced a volcanic eruption where residents are unable to decide between fleeing and staying put, away from militants who are situated outside the city.

Catholic Charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, has reported that the situation in the city, where the Catholic Diocese of Goma is headquartered, is alarming.

“After the first eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano on Saturday night, the situation seemed to have calmed down, but strong earth movements and the risk of a new eruption are forcing the population to evacuate the city, which has an estimated two million inhabitants,” the leadership of ACN says in a report shared with ACI Africa Thursday, May 27.

In the report, Fr. Arsene Masumbuko, the Rector of St. John Paul II Seminary in Buhimba in Goma Diocese tells ACN that people are now forced to decide between the danger they face with the ongoing tremors and possible assaults by armed groups.

“I ask for prayers for the population of Goma and for our Seminarians. We still don't know if we will have to evacuate the Seminary,” says Fr. Masumbuko.

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He adds, “The serious danger is that there could be an explosion in the lake, where there is gas, that would endanger everything in an area of ​​20 kilometers. That is why we are waiting to receive more information and to be able to make a decision.”

Fr. Masumbuko shares with ACN that he had left Goma on Friday due to a family emergency, before the volcano began to spit out lava. Now he was unable to return to the Seminary.

The Priest however tells the Pontifical charity organization that he is “in permanent contact with the vice-rector to decide what to do.”

In an interview with ACI Africa on Monday, May 24, Nelson Mantama, the officer in charge of communications at the Catholic Youth Centre of Goma Diocese said that people in the region were still in panic owing to earth tremors.

“Today, the situation is not at all disturbing, but we are noticing some concern and a little bit of alert, of panic following tremors that shook the environment. And as a result, the population seemed to be getting scared again,” Mr. Mantama told ACI Africa.

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The Communications official said that the people were, however, following the directives of the government and the OVG (Observatoire Volcanologique de Goma), the body that monitors volcanoes in the Central African nation.

He told ACI Africa that though there was no active eruption on the surface, active cracks could still be seen and that the cracks were sending panic among the people.

In the May 27 report, the leadership of ACN explains the danger that surrounds Goma, apart from the volcanic eruption that is said to have killed over 30 people and displaced thousands.

“The population in North-Kivu where Goma is located has increased dramatically in recent years due to refugees from the civil war and the situation of violence and insecurity caused by armed groups active in the areas,” ACN reports.

Now, the first dilemma is whether to evacuate or not, according to Fr. Masumbuko.

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He explains the dilemma, “Even if we evacuate, the next question is where to go and especially how to get there, because security outside of Goma is very fragile. There are armed groups that take advantage of this situation to attack and assault people.”

“The situation is chaotic,” the Priest tells ACN, adding that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the country (MONUSCO), the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, has already left the country.

There are no reliable sources of information on what to do and people in the country are getting contradictory messages from social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp, he says.

“It is really a drama. I ask you to support us with your prayers,” the Priest tells the charity organization that has supported the formation of the 29 seminarians in the Seminary.