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GISENYI (Rwanda) May 28 — Jean-Baptiste Kamandwa is exhausted and anxious: he has fled to Rwanda for the second time in days after the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, and cannot find his family.
The 61-year-old carpenter first crossed the border from eastern DR Congo on Saturday, as thousands fled an eruption of Africa’s most active volcano.
Like many he returned when the lava quickly halted — but on Thursday joined a second wave of people pouring over the border as Congolese authorities ordered the evacuation of city of Goma over fears Mount Nyiragongo may erupt once again.
“I cannot find my family. I know they are not dead but they are just lost and I don’t know what to do,” he told AFP today.
He had just got off a Rwandan military truck ferrying Congolese evacuees to a makeshift camp set up by the Rwandan authorities and the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
“On Sunday I went back home to see if they had returned but found only the debris of our destroyed house. I returned to Rwanda yesterday, spent a night at the stadium and looked everywhere but could not find my wife and two children.”
The Rugerero camp where Kamandwa will be staying is roughly 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where just on the other side, Nyiragongo looms over Goma.
Some 3,000 people are estimated to have arrived in the camp so far, a Rwandan government official told AFP on condition of anonymity, however counting is still underway.
A small makeshift clinic at the camp is tending to crying babies while the elderly rest on mats in the tent.
Suddenly, over 10 green military trucks pull up and more people spill out.
The influx has the UNHCR and Rwandan government worried about an outbreak of the coronavirus.
The camp is surrounded by policemen, one of whom told AFP that they were ordered to ensure that displaced people do not join the general population and spread any virus.
“Only those who want to go back to DRC can leave, and they are driven back to the border and allowed to leave,” the policeman told AFP.
An official from the ministry of emergency management, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were currently sufficient supplies of food, water and medicine.
But this could change as more people come into the country.
“For now we don’t know how the situation will evolve or for how long the refugees are going to stay in Rwanda but for now we have the required capacity for the initial response,” Elise Laura Villechalane, external relations officer of UNHCR Rwanda told AFP.
Mount Nyiragongo last erupted in 2002, killing more than 100 people. The latest violent awakening of the volcano left 32 dead.
Some of those fleeing this disaster have been taken to another smaller camp some 28 kilometres from the border.
Among them, Jean Pierre Ntumba, a butcher from Goma, said he had actually been in Rwanda at the time of the eruption and returned to find his home destroyed.
“My wife and I slept in a shattered house. We spent sleepless nights worried every time there was an earthquake.
“We left primarily because we were scared ... because we don’t know if these earthquakes will stop or if the mountain will vomit again.”
Rwanda’s Rubavu district, which borders DRC, has also been seriously impacted by the eruption, with a spate of earthquakes rattling the area since Saturday.
Tremors have even been felt in the capital Kigali, some 90 kilometres (85 miles) away.
Some roads have been closed off due to huge cracks in the tarmac while over 1,200 houses have been destroyed.
Kamandwa fled the volcano during its last major eruption in 2002, and knows all too well the terror it can bring.
“It burnt one of my cousins to death. Now I am again running away and I don’t know where my family is. I feel cursed,” he said. — AFP
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