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Why Mount Nyiragongo is one of most dangerous volcanoes in the world

Flowing lava from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, which occurred late on May 22, 2021, is seen in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 23, 2021. [Reuters]

Haunted by memories of the 2002 Mount Nyiragongo’s eruption that left 250 people dead and 120,000 homeless, residents of Goma city in Eastern DR Congo fled their homes on May 22 towards the nearby border with Rwanda following another eruption.

Nyiragongo is a large stratovolcano near Lake Kivu at the eastern border of DR Congo with Rwanda in the Virunga National Park.

It has a 1.2 km diameter summit caldera containing the world's most active and largest lava lake.

According to government figures, 13 people were killed fleeing the disaster, including nine in a traffic accident and four who tried to escape Munzenze prison in Goma.

Flowing lava from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, which occurred late on May 22, 2021, is seen in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. [Reuters]

Experts say its unique lava and the amount of carbon dioxide it produces are what make it one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes.

Not much is known about how long it has been erupting, but since 1882, it has erupted at least 34 times, including many periods where activity was continuous for years at a time, often in the form of a churning lava lake in the crater.

In 2002 which is the last time Nyiragongo erupted, it lasted for a day but destroyed 15 per cent of Goma, including part of the international airport and the business centre.

According to Dr Robinson George Andrew, Nyiragongo is dangerous because it lacks silica, a compound in many lavas that acts as a sort of skeleton, keeping it bound together.

Andrew who is Science Journalist and has PhD in Volcanology said the fluidity of its lava makes it hazardous because the lava can move at 60mph, meaning that they can catch up to speeding cars.

“This volcano’s lava is remarkably fluid and can move at 60mph, which means that they can catch up to speeding cars,” he said on his Twitter on Sunday.

Dr Andrew said the volcano also release a lot of invisible carbon dioxide which are denser than air hence sinks downslope and kills anyone engulfed by it.

He said the lava kills people by overrunning and burning them or through suffocation under invisible carbon dioxide.

“Between 200-300 people there died, either by being overrun with the lava or by asphyxiating under an invisible blanket of volcanic carbon dioxide,” he said.

Deadly eruptions

In 1977, Mount Nyiragongo produced the deadliest eruption in Africa after it erupted killing over 2,000 people.

Historians, however, regard the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815 in Indonesia as the world deadliest eruption after it reportedly killed roughly 100,000 people.

In Kenya, there are no active volcanoes, but Mt Suswa in Narok County is said to be having signs of future eruption.

 In Africa, there are four active volcanoes namely Arte Ale in Ethiopia, Ol Donyo Lengai in Tanzania, Mount Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo both in DR Congo

Other active volcanoes include Mount Etna in Italy, Mount Merapi in Indonesia, Pacaya in Guatemala, Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, K?lauea in the USA, Mount Yasur in Vanuatu and Chile’s Villarrica.


There is a sigh of relief among locals after the flow of lava towards Goma stopped a few hundred meters from the city limits.

Residents walk near destroyed homes with the smouldering lava deposited by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo volcano near Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo May 23, 2021. [Reuters]

A separate lava flow that headed east over unpopulated terrain towards Rwanda also appeared to have stopped.

After an emergency meeting to assess the security and humanitarian situation in Goma, the government urged locals to be vigilant and observe directives from the provincial authorities.

“A government delegation went immediately to provide support to the provincial authorities to deal with humanitarian emergencies. The population is invited to vigilance and to strictly observe the directives of the provincial authorities,” Government Spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said on Sunday.

Mt Nyiragongo erupted on Saturday turning the night sky red and sending a wall of orange lava downhill towards the lakeside city of about 2 million people.

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