Little food and water for Congolese fleeing volcano

By Djaffar Al Katanty

SAKE, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Families fleeing a volcano eruption in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo said on Friday they were struggling to find enough food and water as the United Nations called for aid and warned about the risk of cholera.

At least 31 people died when Mount Nyiragongo sent a wall of lava spreading towards Goma on Saturday last week, destroying 3,000 homes along the way and cutting a major road used to bring aid to the strife-torn region.

The lava stopped just short of the city limits, but thousands more people fled early on Thursday when the government warned that the volcano, one of the world’s most active, could erupt again.

Many escaped to Sake, a town 13 miles (20 km) northwest of Goma that is prone to cholera outbreaks, UNICEF said.

People slept wherever they could – on the side of the road and inside classrooms and a church. Kabuo Asifiwe Muliwavyo, 36, told Reuters she and her seven children had not eaten since arriving on Thursday.

“They told us that there will be a second eruption and that there will be a big gas explosion,” she said as she cradled her crying one-year-old. “But since we moved, there is nothing here … We are starving.”

Around 400,000 people need support or protection, the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) said in a statement.

“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.

UNDER THE STARS

Danga Tungulo and his four children slept next to the road in Sake. Some local residents brought them water, but they had not eaten since they left Goma the previous day, he said.

“They told everyone that assistance would be organized, that money would be disbursed by the government,” said Hassan Kanga, a lawyer who fled after the eruption. “And yet, you find us under the stars.”

The evacuation order was issued around 1 a.m. local time on Thursday after radar images showed molten rock flowing under Goma.

The movement of magma caused cracks in the ground and hundreds of earthquakes, which could allow it to burst through to the surface in a fresh eruption, the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) said.

The frequency and intensity of the ground tremors had lessened in the last 24 hours, suggesting the risk of a fresh eruption was subsiding, Celestin Kasareka Mahinda of the OVG said on Friday.

“I don’t think we will have a second eruption. The problem is the risk of fractures, but the risk is small, around 20%,” he told Reuters.

Some people who had fled to Sake crowded into trucks later on Friday to return to Goma. Dozens of people who had fled in the opposite direction to neighboring Rwanda also crossed back into Congo, photos shared by the Rwandan government showed.

Congolese authorities, meanwhile, reopened the main road which was split in two by lava, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.

Goma is major humanitarian hub supplying aid to a region hit by decades of unrest.

(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty, Aaron Ross and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Andrew Heavens)

Earthquakes in Congo raze buildings, stoke fear of second volcanic eruption

By Djaffar Al Katanty

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -An earthquake on the border of Congo and Rwanda razed buildings in the city of Goma on Tuesday and stoked fears a nearby volcano would erupt again three days after dozens of people were killed and 17 villages were destroyed by lava.

The quake, measured at 5.3 magnitude by the Rwandan Seismic Monitor, was the largest of over 100 tremors that have followed the eruption on Saturday of Congo’s Mount Nyiragongo volcano, one of the world’s most active and dangerous.

“We know that children were injured when a building collapsed on Tuesday just a few steps from the UNICEF office in Goma,” the U.N. children’s agency said.

The quake appeared to have destroyed several buildings in the city of two million, and a witness said at least three people were pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital.

It struck at 11:03 a.m., originating in Rugerero sector in western Rwanda, according to the Rwanda Seismic Monitor.

The city experienced 119 tremors on Monday, but the intensity has started to decrease, said Kasereka Mahinda, scientific director at the Goma Volcano Observatory.

The earthquakes were caused by the tectonic plates seeking to recover their equilibrium after the eruption, a phenomenon seen after the eruptions in 2002 and 1977.

“As soon as the rift recovers its balance, the tremors will stop,” he told Reuters.

Multiple cracks in the earth have emerged in Goma in the last day, although businesses have re-opened across the city and life appeared to be largely returning to normal for those who did not lose their homes.

About 1,000 houses were destroyed and more than 5,000 people displaced by the eruption, the United Nations has said.

“According to the authorities, 32 people have died in incidents related to the eruption, including seven people killed by lava flow and five others asphyxiated by gases,” the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

The lava flow stopped a few hundred meters short of the city limits, but wrecked 17 villages on the way, cut the principal electricity supply and blocked a major road, disrupting aid deliveries to one of the most food-insecure places in Africa.

The lava lake in the volcano’s crater appears to have refilled, raising fears of new fissures or another eruption, UNHCR said. Goma-based volcanologist Dario Tedesco said on Monday he feared the tremors could open another fracture.

The government said a 1.7 km (1.1 mile) stretch of road connecting Goma to the north of the province was covered with lava, blocking the movement of people and goods to an area where some 280,000 people have been displaced by conflict and fighting since January.

The United Nations said it would take days to re-open the road and that it was seeking permission from the government to start re-using Goma airport. The hub for aid relief for the east of the country was closed after lava came within 300 meters (yards).

More than half a million people have lost access to safe water, as lava destroyed one of the most important water supply sources, the International Federation of the Red Cross said.

“Although the flow of lava has stopped, authorities have warned that the danger is not yet over and that seismic activity in the area could cause further lava flows. Infrastructure damage is not ruled out,” the IFRC said.

(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty and Fiston Mahamba; Additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Alistair Bell)

U.N. asks for $29.2 million to help after Caribbean volcano eruption

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United Nations launched an appeal on Tuesday for $29.2 million to help some 15,000 people displaced when the La Soufriere volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted earlier this month.

“We are in a dire situation frankly … We’re not out of the woods,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told reporters, adding that scientists had warned eruptions could last another six months.

The volcano erupted on April 9 after decades of inactivity, spewing dark clouds of ash some 10 km (6 miles) into the air and prompting the evacuation of thousands of people. The volcano has continued to rumble and vent ash.

Didier Trebucq, the U.N. Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, visited the affected areas two days ago with Gonsalves and described the scene as “apocalyptic.” He said the U.N. appeal was to scale up assistance for six months.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a population of just over 100,000, has not experienced volcanic activity since 1979, when an eruption resulted in about $100 million in damages. An eruption by La Soufriere in 1902 killed more than 1,000 people. The name means “sulfur outlet” in French.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5
By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20.

Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Rescue services have been unable to reach White Island as it remains too dangerous.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island.

“Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died…” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

“Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

St. John Ambulance said up to 20 people were believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Several people with burn injuries were brought by helicopter to Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after landing in Whakatane late on Monday.

Ardern was expected to give an update on the situation at a news conference set for 7 a.m. on Tuesday (1800 GMT on Monday).

“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”

Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, was one of the tourists who made it off the island just before the eruption.

“This is so hard to believe,” Schade said in a video posted on Twitter as he sped away from the island by boat. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand science agency GeoNet shows groups of people walking toward and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapor constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. Volcanologists said the ash plume shot 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Center.

“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November due to an increase in volcanic activity.

The White Island volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulfur miners. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, GeoNet said.

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

(For a graphic on ‘Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)