Even before the official evacuation order, hundreds of people had begun to leave the city. AFP/Moses Sawasawa
GOMA - Thousands have fled a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo with lava from Mount Nyiragongo reaching Goma city early Sunday.
Even before the official announcement, people had started filling the streets and carrying what they could as they headed out of the city, where the last major eruption killed 100 people.
"The sky has turned red," one resident, Carine Mbala, told AFP.
"There is a smell of sulphur. In the distance you can see giant flames coming out of the mountain," she said.
Officials said the lava had reached Goma city airport -- located on the outskirts of the metropolis on the shores of Lake Kivu -- although residents said it had stopped at the edge of the facility.
"The situation is deteriorating," an official from Virunga National Park, where the volcano is located, told his staff in a memo.
Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya confirmed on Saturday an evacuation plan had been activated, adding: "The government is discussing the urgent measures to take at present."
Meanwhile, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said he would "interrupt his stay in Europe to return home this Sunday to supervise the coordination of aid".
Goma is home to a large contingent of peacekeepers and staff of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the country, as well as the base of many NGOs and international organisations.
Several planes, belonging to Monusco and private companies, took off in the evening, according to an airport source, with a local adding they had also seen the unusual nighttime activity.
In a May 10 report, the Goma Vulcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased and warranted careful monitoring.