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More than 40 dead as volcano devastates Congolese city

GOMA, Congo (CNN) -- Lava edged with black crust inched through the eastern Congolese city of Goma on Saturday, nearly two days after Mount Nyiragongo erupted, killing more than 40 people and forcing thousands to flee.

The United Nations expressed "deep concern" for the situation in Goma, saying half of the city has been burned and destroyed. After lava flowed into nearby Lake Kivu, aid groups set up freshwater tanks to provide clean drinking water. Thick smoke hung over the city, obscuring a view of the Nyiragongo volcano.

On Saturday, Red Cross workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda estimated the death toll at 47.

Sporadic gunfire was heard in Goma as soldiers tried to prevent looting, but the lack of overall crowd control allowed others to break into shops along deserted streets and take what little was inside.

CNN's Elina Fuhrman reports on the destruction in Goma (January 18)

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Rivers of lava 3 feet high moved slowly through the city on the Congo's eastern border with Rwanda, engulfing houses and shops. Many families fled across the border into Gisenyi, Rwanda, and farther eastward to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Others seeking help took boats across the lake to Bukavu, a Congolese city, saying Rwanda was not accepting their Congolese francs.

"The water pumping stations are down, the electricity has been destroyed, so you've got a whole infrastructural piece you have to rebuild," said Bruce Wilkinson, a spokesman for the aid group World Vision International. "We're working with UNHCR in setting up some camps on the outside of the towns. We're in safe zones we hope won't be reached by continued lava flows."

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the compounds of the World Health Organization, Save the Children and other nongovernmental organizations were destroyed.

The United Nations said Friday that 100,000 people had fled into other Congolese villages and as many as 300,000 more had fled into Rwanda. Thousands spent Friday night sleeping near gas stations because lights there are kept on all night.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted the natural disaster is taking place in an area already beset by years of conflict. The United Nations was sending a plane with 28 metric tons of emergency supplies to Kigali to help the Congolese refugees.

The 11,500-foot-high volcano that began erupting Thursday night is one of several on the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo-Uganda borders, an area of tropical rain forests and rare mountain gorillas.

Only two are active -- Nyamuragira, which erupted last year but caused no casualties, and Nyiragongo.

In 1977, about 70 people were killed when one side of the Nyiragongo volcano collapsed, flooding Goma with lava flowing at 40 mph, one of the fastest lava flows on record. During that eruption, lava came within 2,000 feet of the Goma airport.

Goma is on the edge of Lake Kivu on the Democratic Republic of Congo's border with Rwanda.


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