The fear of looting has been gripping through the eastern DR Congo city of Goma, whose inhabitants fled last week after warnings from the dreaded Mount Nyiragongo volcano could be on the verge of a catastrophic second eruption.
Several cases of homes and stores being looted after the exodus have been reported, although the phenomenon seems less widespread than when Nyiragongo last kicked into life 19 years ago.
Around two-thirds of Goma’s population of 600,000 fled, many of them heading to Sake, around 25 kilometres to the west, or the adjoining Rwandan border town of Gisenyi to the east.
“There were burglaries overnight,” said Augustin Kambale, an inhabitant of Buehene, a district in northern Goma where a laval flow from Nyiragongo came to halt on May 23, less than a day after the volcano awoke.
“Thieves got into our place. They broke down the door and the window. They looted the television, tables, everything,” he said.
“We came home and found just a few clothes still lying on the floor,” Kambale said.
“The same thing happened opposite us — a store was completely looted.”
When it erupted in 2002, lava flowed like a river across the city before ending in Lake Kivu. Looting during that eruption was widespread, and of the 100 or so people who died during the episode, many were killed during pillaging.
When the volcano erupted this time the military governor, General Constant Ndima insisted that evacuated districts would be “secured” by troops and police.
In some areas, citizens have organised their own surveillance. Some young people have been staying behind in homes. People fled but they’ve left someone to keep an eye on property, which explains why there have been fewer burglaries than in 2002.
The the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that it was observing a “slight return of people who had been displaced by the 27 May evacuation order”, with some churches and shops reopening.
Goma lies just a dozen kilometres from Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active and most-feared volcano.