Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Volcano eruption in Eastern Congo

A volcano began erupting in an area of eastern Congo that was destroyed by a major volcanic eruption four years ago and that has been threatened by days of army battles.

Mount Nyamulagira began erupting about 10 p.m. (2200 GMT) Monday, said Celestin Kasereka, head of the Goma volcano observatory.

In 2002, the eruption of neighboring Mount Nyirangongo destroyed one-fifth of the residential areas of Goma, the provincial capital of Congo's North Kivu province. About 100 people died when lava flows as deep as 10 feet (3 meters) overtook parts of the city of 500,000.

Nyamulagira erupted later the same year, spewing plumes of lava 300 feet (90 meters) into the air, but without threatening Goma. Kasereka said Goma is not in the path of lava flows from Nyamulagira because its sister volcano protects the city.

"Nyirangongo constitutes a barrier,'' Kasereka said. Nyirangongo and Nyamulagira, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) and 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Goma, are the only two active volcanoes in the region. On the western side of Goma, clashes between forces loyal to a dissident former general and Congo's army have killed at least three in recent days and pulled in U.N. forces and an attack helicopter Monday. The fighting has been centered around the town of Sake, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Goma _ the opposite direction of the volcanoes.

Kasereka said observation of the site had been difficult because of the unrest in the region. Largely lawless eastern Congo has been home to numerous rebellions in recent years as rival warlords claim swaths of land _ some hanging on despite recent elections designed to unify the country under democratic rule.

Nyamulagira erupts every year or two, but rarely affects populated areas. Kasereka did not say if the eruptions were continuing.

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