Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo launched an evacuation plan for the eastern city of Goma after a large volcano erupted.
Lava burst from Mount Nyiragongo into the night sky forming a thick orange cloud over Goma, which has a population of two million.
Thousands of panic-stricken residents were fleeing, many on foot.
The volcano, located 10km from Goma, last erupted in 2002 killing 250 people and making 120,000 homeless.
Crowds were seen with mattresses and other belongings, fleeing towards the border with Rwanda to the east, even before the government’s announcement, which came several hours after the eruption started.
Rwandan authorities said about 3,000 people already had officially crossed from Goma. Other residents fled to higher grounds to the west of the city.
A new fracture opened up on the volcano, enabling lava to flow south towards Goma and reach the airport, on the eastern edge of the city. Electricity was out across large areas, and one highway that connects Goma with the city of Beni had already been engulfed by the lava.
The smell of sulphur engulfed the region, AFP reported.
An official from Virunga National Park, where the volcano is located, said in a note to staff that the eruption was similar to the one in 2002 and that everyone near the airport should “evacuate without delay”.
Communications Minister Patrick Muyay said on Twitter that the government was discussing “urgent measures” after the prime minister convened an emergency meeting in the capital, Kinshasa.
BREAKING Mr Nyiragongo in DRC is erupting – video from colleagues in DRC. Hoping people can get away pic.twitter.com/vL8hm6vjPE
— Dr. Paula Kahumbu (@paulakahumbu) May 22, 2021
Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s more active volcanos but there were concerns that its activity had not been properly observed by the Goma Volcano Observatory, since the World Bank cut funding amid allegations of corruption.
In a report on 10 May, the observatory warned that seismic activity at Nyiragongo had increased. The volcano’s deadliest eruption happened in 1977, when more than 600 people died.