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IN THE NEWS - January 26, 2002: Congo Volcano - 2002-01-25

This is Steve Ember the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

Last week, a volcano exploded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hot melted rock from Mount Nyiragongo flowed into the eastern city of Goma. Most of the about four-hundred thousand people who live in Goma fled the city. Many crossed the nearby border into the Rwandan town of Gisenyi.

As many as one-hundred people are believed to have died in the lava flow and fires that resulted. But officials have not yet confirmed an official number of dead.

The thick river of melted rock burned a path through the center of Goma. The lava has since cooled and hardened into volcanic rock. It is about fifty meters wide and one meter thick. People walk on top of it to get from one side of town to the other.

Officials estimate the lava and fires damaged eighty percent of Goma. Thousands of houses were completely destroyed. The lava and fires also destroyed businesses leaving most people without jobs.

Rwanda established two camps in Gisenyi for the refugees. An international emergency aid program was based in Gisenyi also. Yet, very few of the Congolese refugees stayed long enough to receive aid there. Most returned quickly to Goma. They said they would rather die at home than stay in Rwanda. The Rwandan government supports the Congolese rebels who control the territory around Goma.

Most aid groups did not move their workers to Goma until Wednesday when they felt the situation was safe enough. The town has been experiencing small earthquakes since the first volcano explosion. This has caused concern that another major explosion is possible. The aid workers were not able to get supplies to large numbers of people in need until almost a week after the volcano explosion. The Congolese government criticized the slow reaction of the aid groups.

United Nations agencies have asked for fifteen million dollars from countries to provide food, shelter and medicines for the people of Goma. Thursday, the U-N World Food Program provided two-hundred sixty metric tons of food. That is enough to feed about seventy-thousand people for a week. Aid groups also are providing blankets and materials to make temporary shelters.

The United States is sending five-thousand metric tons of food and a team of experts to Goma immediately. The team members will examine health, food and security issues in the Congolese city. Belgium, Britain, Germany and the European Commission also have promised millions of dollars of aid.

Aid workers now say there is safe drinking water for some areas of Goma. But there are concerns about the spread of cholera and other diseases in areas where there is no safe water.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.