By Mark Michael

The Anglican Diocese of Goma is playing a central role in coordinating relief for thousands of people displaced by the deadly eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanos, which is located just six miles from the Congolese city near the country’s border with Rwanda.

The Anglican Alliance reports that development teams from the diocese are assessing the damage and working with chiefs in the villages most severely impacted by the blast to distribute food, hygiene items, and household goods. The diocese is part of the Anglican Church of the Congo, one of the 41 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion.

The eruption, which killed at least 32 people, began on May 22, when a lake of molten lava spilled over the top of the volcano’s side, flowing towards the city of 670,000 people. Unlike a similar eruption in 2002, when lava flowed directly into Goma, destroying 40 percent of its buildings, destruction was confined to 20 villages on the mountain’s slopes.

Still, the Diocese of Goma’s assessment reports that 4,545 homes were destroyed, as well as 11 schools, six churches, two health centers and several larger businesses. One Anglican parish church was destroyed, while others are serving as refugee relief centers.  One diocesan school was destroyed, and another is in danger of collapse. The damage leaves approximately 25,000 people homeless.

There is also great concern about continued seismic activity in the area. There were hundreds of aftershocks in the days following the initial eruption, and the lava inside the volcano’s crater has refilled. Fears of a second eruption appear to be subsiding in recent days, but the earthquakes have toppled several buildings.

Henri Kyausa, the Anglican Church of the Congo’s acting provincial secretary reported, “The earthquakes became stronger and stronger on Monday and Tuesday. There are cracks in the center of Goma town, buildings are shaking to this day …  impact will be getting bigger as the days go by. Humanitarian assistance is required.”

The BBC reports that some geologists still fear a rare limnic eruption under Lake Kivu, the 1040-square-mile lake on which Goma is situated. In a limnic eruption, carbon dioxide and methane seep into a body of water, and when heated by magma, escape into the air. As carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the air, human respiration can become impossible. A limnic eruption under Cameroon’s Lake Nyos in 1986 asphyxiated an estimated 1,800 people in nearby villages.

Support for the displaced and vulnerable began pouring into the region almost immediately. Martin Gordon, a CMS missionary who is serving as the diocese’s vicar general, reported that a delegation from an archdeaconry outside the diocese brought 300 kilograms (about 660 pounds) of potatoes on May 25, and another Congolese diocese is coordinating relief for the parish of Buvira, which was in the direct path of the lava flow.

On May 28, the local military governor ordered the evacuation of 10 zones in the center of Goma, due to concerns about continuing seismic activity and the possibility of localized lava eruptions. The UN reported on May 29 that about 400,000 people have fled the city, and appealed for “urgent international assistance to avert what could be a catastrophe for children.” A BBC reporter said that Goma looks like a ghost town, while the neighboring city of Sake, 20 km away, is full of refugees.

The Anglican presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is concentrated in the region along the country’s Eastern border, where Ugandan missionary Apolo Kivebulaya began his ministry to the people on the edge of the Ituri Forest in 1896. The country’s eastern region, which counts Goma as its largest city, has also suffered considerable violence in recent years, including attacks on Christian hospitals and churches by Islamist groups activated by intermittent clashes between various rebel groups.

The Diocese of Goma is receiving donations for relief and rebuilding through the support page of the Congolese Churches Association.