DR Congo’s Mount Nyiragongo has erupted for the first time in nearly two decades – but a city directly in the path of the lava flow has so far been spared.
Many thousands of people fled the city of Goma, some heading for its highest point Mount Goma.
Others headed for the nearby Rwandan border, with authorities there saying that around 3,000 people had already crossed over on Saturday night. Some even boarded boats onto Lake Kivu.
Homes on the outskirts of Goma have been destroyed in the eruption and smoke has been rising from smoldering heaps of lava in some areas.
“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighborhood,” said witness Innocent Bahala Shamavu.
As people attempted to escape, Goma resident Zacharie Paluku told The Associated Press: “Everyone is afraid, people are running away. We really don’t know what to do.”
There was a government evacuation plan but it came hours after the sky had turned a fiery red and power had been cut to the city.
Lava from the eruption flowed on to a major road on Saturday as it reached the airport on the city’s edge, according to a volcanologist based there. However, the airport is now understood to have escaped damage.
Dario Tedesco told Reuters that new fractures were opening in Nyiragongo, allowing the lava to flow southward towards Goma after initially flowing east toward Rwanda.
“Now Goma is the target,” Mr Tedesco said, adding: “It’s similar to 2002.”
Another Gomo resident told Sky News on Saturday night that the “situation is serious”.
“The fire is becoming complicated. The houses are burnt, the people are suffering and the problems are huge,” he said.
Nyiragongo’s last eruption was in 2002 and it left hundreds of people dead, and coated airport runways with lava.
“I think that the lava is going towards the city centre,” Mr Tedesco said.
“It might stop before or go on. It’s difficult to forecast.”
No casualties have been confirmed as a result of the eruption so far.
“We are doing our best to give you factual information, unfortunately, a part of Gomo is in the dark but I want to assure you your government is doing something,” a government spokesman said.
Goma is a base for UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO and it was reported that the organisation’s aircraft had been moved to nearby cities.
Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is considered among the most dangerous.
There had been concern about the amount of volcanic activity observed in the last five years at Nyiragongo but experts at Goma Volcano Observatory have not been able to check things regularly due to funding issues.