DR Congo's Nyiragongo volcano erupts sparking panic

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The red sky is seen after the Nyiragongo volcano erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as seen from the border in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on May 23, 2021.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi is returning from Europe to oversee the relief efforts and is closely monitoring the security and humanitarian situation in the country's eastern North Kivu province, the presidency said.

"President Tshisekedi has made a decision to interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday in order to supervise the coordination of aid to populations in areas threatened by this volcanic eruption", according to a tweeted statement, released on the president's official account.

Mount Nyiragongo has erupted for the first time in almost two decades, sending lava sliding down the hillside towards the eastern city of Goma and forcing thousands of people to flee.

The lava reached the city's airport early Sunday, with an official from Virunga National Park - where the volcano is located - telling his staff: "the situation is deteriorating".

"The sky has turned red", one resident, Carine Mbala said.

But later Saturday, Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya tweeted: "The evacuation plan for the city of #Goma has been activated. It has now reached the airport", he said.

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"The eruption of Nyiragongo volcano, which occurred at about seven o'clock in the evening local time", confirmed the military governor of North Kivu, with its capital, Goma.

The Nyiragongo volcano, located not far from the DR Congo's border with Rwanda, started to erupt on Satuday.

"The eruption of Nyiragongo is similar to the eruption in 2002", he said, asking all local residents near the airport to "evacuate without delay". Other residents fled to higher grounds to the west of the city. Power was out in multiple locations throughout the city.

Volcano watchers have been anxious that the volcanic activity observed in the last five years mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002. Dorcas Mbulayi left her home about an hour after the volcano first showed signs of erupting. "That's why I'm scared again this time". Electricity was out across large areas, and one highway that connects Goma with the city of Beni had already been engulfed by the lava. Auto horns honked and motorcycle taxis weaved as people attempted to escape in panic.

Goma appeared relatively calm as dawn broke, but people said they are still wary.

During that eruption, the victims were mostly sick or elderly abandoned to their fate in the northern districts of the city with some looting also taking place.

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