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Congo volcano aid effort begins

GOMA, Congo -- Aid began to arrive in Goma on Tuesday in an effort to help stricken residents who have returned to their homes in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption.

Food and water as well as blankets were being delivered by international aid agencies to the town in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.N. World Food Programme is gearing up to deliver about 1,000 tons of food to people sheltering at various sites including 120,000 people in the city, 60,000 in a camp 20 kilometres west of Goma, 40,000 in parts of a regional district and 12,000 people in Bukavu, south of Goma, a programme official said

The food includes vegetable oil, soya, maize, grain or flour, lentils, salt and sugar.

As volcanic lava flows subside, Congo villagers begin recovery with little help so far from relief agencies. CNN's Chris Burns reports (January 22)

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The food could be distributed as early as Tuesday night. The agency is also planning to begin mobilising 6,000 tons of food stored in neighbouring Rwanda.

South Africa offered to contribute 100 tons of food, medicine and other relief supplies to be delivered to Congo over the weekend.

Tens of thousands of residents have been arriving back ahead of expectations to see how much of their homes had survived the river of lava which covered about 40 percent of the town killing an initially estimated 47 people.

People were walking over red hot lava to make the journey.

Aid agencies, which had been expecting the 400,000 affected people to flee to Rwanda, were concerned to find the residents returning home before the all-clear had been given.

They were forced to switch their emphasis on refugee camps to moving aid to the affected town.

But the Red Cross set up a centre in Gisenyi in Rwanda for children who were separated from their families when they fled Goma after Thursday night's volcanic eruption.

Hungry residents said help could not come soon enough, where earth tremors still make houses shudder.

"There's still no aid," student Ricky Salumu, 23, told Reuters news agency.

"The international community has done nothing, we just need water, electricity and shelter for people," he added.

The World Food Programme had delayed making a decision on aid distribution because "up to now, we had no indications it was safe."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York said it expects to appeal on Tuesday for $15 million in immediate assistance including food and other items, coordination efforts and future assessments.

The Red Cross delivered chlorine to a water treatment plant and fresh water was being trucked in. Water distribution points were being set up throughout the town where pipes were cut.

A spokesman for the European Union relief agency ECHO, said electricity had been returned to parts of the city.

But some Congolese have complained of headaches and diarrhoea from contaminated water.

The lava has seeped into the nearby Lake Kivu from where residents are taking water.

Resident Lucie Kabuo, 21, told Reuters: "We're afraid but there is nothing else to do. We have no choice."

A leading vulcanologist Jacques Durieux offered hope that Mountain Nyiragongo had spewed the last of its volcanic lava.

"In my opinion...the phase of the active eruption is finished," the head of the French-based Group for the Study of Active Volcanoes said.

"There is no more sign of volcanic activity on the slope."

Conditions in Goma remain volatile. An explosion at a petrol station set off by hot lava killed looters in the town on Monday. It is feared about 30 people trying to siphon the fuel may have died.

Kahokolo Kambale, 30, said men and women had been pouring fuel from large drums into smaller ones when some spilled liquid appeared to trickle onto hot lava, setting the garage ablaze. No immediate confirmation on figures were available.


• Goma residents return despite risk
January 21, 2002
• Catherine Bond: Volcano displaces thousands
January 19, 2002
• Congo volcano crisis deepens
January 19, 2002
• Congo volcano devastation mounts
January 18, 2002
• Voices from the devastation
January 20, 2002

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