It all started in the evening of Saturday, 22nd May, 2021. The volcano Mount Nyiragongo, in the Virunga Range – Republic of Congo – started a major eruption . It immediately put in danger towns, villages and the city of Goma, set 15 km away from the crater. Mount Nyiragongo is a very large crater keeping a lake of boiling lava. Of course a mainly a tourist attraction, until a gas bubble comes up from inside the mountain and makes it explode. This happens rarely, but when it does … people may die!

Mount Nyiragongo had erupted 20 years ago but with minor damages. The last great eruption of 1977 had killed over 500 people and left 1200 homeless, after the evacuation and destruction of local villages. Why then do people remain at the foot of this dangerous mountain? Because of the many advantages it offers, including the business of tourism.

About volcano Nyiragongo

Mount Nyiragongo is part of the Virunga Range, a set of 8 active  volcanoes on the border line between Congo and Rwanda. Seven volcanoes are living a long “quiet” period, while Nyiragongo has always been more dangerous. It appears as a large, short mountain with a flat top. But it reaches 3000 meters above sea level (3400 to be exact)! The main crater has a diameter of 1.2 km and keeps a perpetual lake of hot boiling lava which mainly remains crackling inside the borders.

Sometimes, though, pushed by the inner gas of the volcano it may cause great explosions. The lava then may fall beyond the border and over the surrounding territory; major eruptions also cause the lava to pour out of the crater and run as a river to the villages and towns. Every now and then, from Nyiragongo rise poisonous vapours which – if there is no wind around – remain low on the land and kill animals and people. The lavic ground around the mountian, anyway, is rich and fertile and this is why local people keep living at its foot and seem to have no fear at all.

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photo by Radio Okapi

Eruptions of Nyiragongo

Mount Nyiagongo had caused many great eruptions, in centuries. There are no certain news about the volcano’s activity in past history because we know about it since 1882. From that year on, it has erupted 34 times. The worst eruption ever, as far as we know, happened on January 1977: part of the crater’s wall collapsed and the lava ran down as a hot river. It went at 60 km per hour speed, overwhelming on the way houses, farms, towns. Over 500 people – some say 600! – were killed immediately, thousands wete injured and lost their homes for years.  In 2002 another major eruption caused the lava to even reach Lake Kivu, in Rwanda, with the risk of main explosion and hot mud rivers to flow on the land around. The lava stopped before causing great damages but ashes and gas killed 250 people.

Nyiragongo, the new eruption

This new eruption started on May 22nd, 2021. A giant gas bubble made the lake of lava explode and rivers of fire poured out of the crater going towards the city of Goma and its airport. The lava reached the outskirts of the city and entered the area of the airport – which is a very important one for tourism in that region! Then it  slowed down in the night of Sunday and on Monday it seems to have stopped.

The government had already helped the people of Goma to evacuate and, so far, there is no news of victims but many farms and properties were lost. The main road connecting Goma with other parts of Congo was cut by the lava stream.

If the eruption has come to an end, this might be a lucky one, with less damages. Of course the show was shocking and many tourists are now planning to go over there and admire “what happened”. This may be a useful support for the local economy but it is better to ask, before planning any trip. If the situation is not safe, a trip to Nyiagongo and Goma, right now, is not a good idea.

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lava pouring out of the crater