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The following message has been received from Goma:
In the region where we are living, occupied by the rebels, the majority of the population supports the legal government of Kinshasa. So it was that on 16 January the mood was sullen and uninspired, as the population was obliged, under pressure, to go to work. 17 January was a holiday throughout the republic, both on the rebel and government sides, in commemoration of the death of Patrice Lumumba, a national hero. Even the schoolchildren and students did not go to school.
At about 9 a.m. we saw dust rising from Mount Nyiragongo. A few hours later, we saw the inhabitants of the district called Monigi fleeing towards town, carrying mattresses, suitcases, children and even goats.
They were the first to inform us that Mount Nyiragongo was erupting. This did not cause any anxiety among the population of Goma, which is used to seeing lots of eruptions from craters on the edge of Mount Nyiragongo. Apart from the eruption of 1977, which was directed towards Monigi, and caused the death of about 2,000 people, stopping near the airport, all other volcanic eruptions had only poured their lava towards the north where the Virunga National Park is situated. This region is not inhabited and is strictly reserved for the wild animals. So the people thought that all the lava flow was going towards that side.
About midday the local radio put out the news of the volcanic eruption, and reassured us that there was nothing to worry about, as the lava was flowing in the usual direction. At about 3 p.m. rumours were starting to circulate in town that no one was left in Monigi and that all homes had been burnt to cinders by the volcano. Relying on the information which was still coming from the radio, and which continued to reassure us that the situation was calm and that the eruption had stopped, we stayed in our homes unconcerned. The distance between the volcano and the town is 27 km, so it is difficult for us to see with the naked eye what is happening out there. Then at about 5 p.m. we saw the fires and the smoke rising from certain parts of the suburbs of Goma. There was a total stampede!
People started fleeing eastwards to Gisenyi in Rwanda, and westwards to Sake, which is about 27 km. out on the road to Bukavu. Some left in vehicles and others on foot, everyone carrying luggage - on their heads, on car roofs or on carts. I myself went with my family to Gisenyi. We thought we were among the first to go there, so imagine our astonishment when we saw thousands and thousands of people who were there before us. There were no places in the schools, in the hotels, in the markets, or even by shop fronts. We spent the night in the open air on the hill of Rubavu.
On the morning of the 18th, all the Congolese in Gisenyi came together as one, and returned to Goma to see what had happened. We learnt that the town was divided into two by the lava, which was still hot - Goma East and Goma West. We stayed in Birere district at Brother Itongwa's.
The lava flow - a burnt-out house on the left and the ecclesial hall on the right
During the evening of that day, Radio Goma threw the population into a dilemma. It said that everyone should leave the town and flee, so that no house remained occupied. Those in Goma East were asked to cross over into Rwanda, and those in Goma West to follow the road to Sake as far as Masisi. In our case, we went again to Gisenyi, where we spent the night on a balcony in front of a hairdressing salon. All night long there were tremors and quakes, such as we had never before experienced. We thought the ground was going to open up and swallow us. But thanks be to God we came through to Saturday 19th, when we resolved to go back once more to Goma to Brother Itongwa's. There we met Brother Byema, who informed us that the lava had stopped at the foot of the wall of our ecclesial hall, but that all our houses had been looted and all goods taken.
On Monday 21st we decided to pass with difficulty over the hot lava to Katindo. When we arrived at the hall we noticed with some bitterness that Brother Byema's report was true.
A lot of our members had dispersed to escape the calamity. In recent times they have almost all returned. The money sent by the CBM via Western Union was used to buy food-stuffs which we shared out around the ecclesia on Wednesday 6 February: beans 200 kg, rice 100 kg, sugar 50 kg, palm oil 40 litres.
We report the following losses:
We are holding all meetings as usual and attendance is as normal. The consequences of the lava flows are beginning to make themselves felt. Members are suffering from sore throats, coughs, headaches, sore eyes etc. Many of our brothers are civil servants who have had no work in recent times. During this time when their husbands received no salary, our wives have struggled to get by selling small items in the market of Virunga. All these small enterprises have been destroyed by fire.
In view of the urgent needs of our members: medicines, accommodation, bedding, clothing, kitchen utensils etc. the ecclesial committee met and came to the following conclusion. Half the money received from the CBM was distributed among members for them to buy at the market or elsewhere according to their individual needs; the rest is being held back to replace the furniture and other things. This latter task will be done when Brother Théo from Bukavu arrives among us. Once again the Goma ecclesia thanks the CBM and all the brothers and sisters in the UK.
Masimango Amisi, Goma, 12 February 2002
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