The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said on Sunday the children were lost in the chaos as residents fled the nearby town of Goma. More than 150 children have been separated from their families and more than 170 children are at risk of going missing, the agency said.
About 8,000 people have entered Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to seek refuge following the eruption of the volcano, the Rwandan emergency management ministry said on Sunday.
“This morning, after the end of the lava flows from the Nyiragongo volcano, most of the Congolese evacuated to Rubavu are returning home. Rwanda received around 8,000 people last night,” the ministry said on its official Twitter account.
Thousands of Goma residents spent the night outdoors after Saturday’s eruption, according to a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“There was no massive panic, but people are really worried,” said Tom Peyre-Costa, Council spokesperson for West and Central Africa.
“All over town you see people walking with their things, their kids and even their goats and whatever else they could catch. Most of them are just sitting by the side of the road waiting to get back from. so soon, ”Peyre-Costa said.
But hundreds of people could return to find damaged homes and dangerous water and electricity shortages, UNICEF said.
The children’s agency is sending a team to the area to work to limit the spread of cholera. It is also setting up two transit centers for unaccompanied and separated children, in collaboration with the Congolese local authorities.
A deadly rash
A total of 11 people have died from the eruption, officials said.
Five people died in a car crash when they tried to evacuate, Peyre-Costa told CNN.
Four prisoners also died trying to escape from Camp Munzenze prison in the wake of the eruption, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya told CNN. He said the prisoners “were trying to escape and could have run into the guards”.
Muyaya said two more people died on Sunday, but did not specify the circumstances.
According to NRC estimates, six hundred houses around Goma have been destroyed and five schools razed.
The volcanic eruption appears to have subsided, according to the Goma Volcano Observatory, which monitors the volcano. The city authorities have activated an evacuation plan as a precautionary measure.
“We arrived quickly, we weren’t expecting this kind of thing that just happened to us,” Théophile Tulinabo, a resident who fled his home after the eruption, told CNN in Buhene, a neighborhood north of. Goma. “And where are we going to live now? At the moment, we don’t know.”
Furaha Grace, another resident speaking to CNN in Buhene, said she was in the local market when she had to flee the rash.
“When we returned to the city, the houses were set on fire and some people became destitute. I had an accident and I was injured,” she said. “So we appeal for help and especially for food.”
Goma is located on the shores of Lake Kivu, on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Rwanda. The current population of the Goma metropolitan region in 2021 is 670,000, according to a projection by the UN, the World Bank and others.
Peyre-Costa said a number of non-governmental organizations in the region estimate Goma’s population to be closer to one million.
Patrick Kakesa of the International Organization of Security NGOs (INSO) said in a statement at 11 p.m. that lava appears to be flowing towards the border with Rwanda.
“In the event of an evacuation, customs between Goma and Gisenyi are closed overnight,” he said.
INSO advised aid workers living in Munigi camp, a short distance north of Goma, to move to villages further west.
Peyre-Costa and 11 of his colleague evacuated as a precaution.
“If the situation stays the same, maybe we can come back tonight, so we’ll see. We’re on hold. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Volcanologist Honoré Chiraba of the Goma Volcano Observatory told CNN that there were two fractures in the volcano. Chiraba closely follows volcanic activity with the governor of North Kivu, the province where the city of Goma is located.
“The lava is flowing but not very fast,” Chiraba said. “At this point, we don’t think anyone is hurt, but we can’t know for sure.”
The 11,500-foot-high volcano is one of many near the DRC’s border with Rwanda and Uganda, an area of tropical rainforest and rare mountain gorillas.
Larry Madowo and Saskya Vandoorne reported from Amboseli, Kenya, and Samantha Beech, Susanna Capelouto and Jennifer Hauser contributed reporting from Atlanta.