Mount Nyirangongo is beautiful, but it’s also a troubling reminder of a 14-year-old catastrophe. The last time the volcano erupted — in 2002 — it killed 147 people and forced 400,000 people to flee the nearby city of Goma.
The eruption effectively split Goma in two, destroying a third of the city. Lava even covered about 80 percent of the airstrips at Goma International Airport, making it almost impossible to evacuate people or get outside aid to survivors.
Just like back in 2002, the threat facing Goma today isn’t an explosion, but a fast-moving river of lava that flows out of cracks on the side of the mountain.
It is much more like the volcanoes in Hawaii. [They are] very fluid, very fast-moving and very hot lava.”
This newest vent, the one that just opened up, faces Goma. Just like they did in 2002. Goma sits right on the shore of Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes. The lake straddles the border between the DRC and Rwanda, and holds massive amounts of methane and dissolved carbon dioxide because of its proximity to volcanic vents, among other reasons.
The shores of Laku Kivu are packed with about 2 million people. And with much of the infrastructure destroyed by years of a civil war and little to no upkeep, many experts agree that it would be impossible to evacuate them quickly.
Back in 2002, lava streamed into Lake Kivu for several days. The lake didn’t explode that time, but it’s unlikely that people living on the shore will be that lucky again if lava reaches the lake again.
How to reach Mount Nyirangongo
It’s hidden in the depths of Mount Nyiragongo and hikers must trek up to an altitude of about 11,400ft (3.47km) to catch a glimpse of the lava lake.
Mount Nyiragongo is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, erupting on average every 30 years.