More than 170 children are still feared missing and UNICEF officials said they were organising transit centers to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.

A person stands in front of lava from the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma in DRC on May 23, 2021.
A person stands in front of lava from the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, in Buhene, on the outskirts of Goma in DRC on May 23, 2021. (AP)

Torrents of lava poured into villages after dark in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with little warning, leaving at least 15 people dead amid the chaos and destroying more than 500 homes, officials and survivors say.

The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on Saturday night sent about 5,000 people fleeing from the city of Goma across the nearby border into Rwanda, while another 25,000 others sought refuge to the northwest in Sake, the UN children's agency said on Sunday.

Fire and fumes rose from the blackish molten rock as it swallowed up houses, flowing towards Goma airport on the shores of Lake Kivu and leaving smouldering wreckage in its wake, an AFP correspondent said.

Residents began to warily return home despite repeated seismic shocks as the death toll rose to 15, most of whom were not killed directly by the eruption.

The military governor of North Kivu province said "the city was spared" by a matter of a few hundred metres (yards) after "the lava halted near Buhene on the outskirts of Goma".

Nine people nonetheless died in accidents during the evacuations, said General Constant Ndima, who was appointed governor this month when the province was placed under a "state of siege" to combat violence by armed groups.

Another four people were shot dead while trying to escape Goma's Munzenze prison, according to local military spokesman Guillaume Njike Kaiko.

More than 170 children were still feared missing on Sunday and UNICEF officials said they were organising transit centers to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.

Goma ultimately was largely spared the mass destruction it suffered the last time the volcano erupted back in 2002. Hundreds died then and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. But in outlying villages closer to the volcano, Sunday was marked by grief and uncertainty.

'Everything we had is gone'

Aline Bichikwebo and her baby managed to escape when the lava flow reached her village, but said both her mother and father were among those who perished. Community members gave a provisional toll of 10 dead in Bugamba alone, though provincial authorities said it was too soon to know how many lives were lost.

Bichikwebo says she tried to rescue her father but wasn't strong enough to move him to safety before the family's home was ignited by lava.

“I am asking for help because everything we had is gone,” she said, clutching her baby. “We don’t even have a pot. We are now orphans and we have nothing.”

The air remained thick with smoke because of how many homes had caught fire when the lava came.

“People are still panicking and are hungry,” resident Alumba Sutoye said. “They don’t even know where the y are going to spend the night.”

READ MORE: Goma city no more under threat as river of DRC volcano lava halts

At least five died in truck crash 

Residents said there was little warning before the dark sky turned a fiery red, sending people running for their lives in all directions. One woman went into labour and gave birth while fleeing the eruption to Rwanda, the national broadcaster there said.

Smoke rose from smoldering heaps of lava in the Buhene area near the city on Sunday.

“We have seen the loss of almost an entire neighborhood," Innocent Bahala Shamavu said. “All the houses in Buhene neighborhood were burned and that’s why we are asking all the provincial authorities and authorities at the national level as well as all the partners, all the people of good faith in the world, to come to the aid of this population.”

Goma is a regional hub for many humanitarian agencies in the region, as well as the UN peacekeeping mission. While Goma is home to many UN peacekeepers and aid workers, much of surrounding eastern Congo is under threat from myriad armed groups vying for control of the region’s mineral resources.

READ MORE: DRC orders evacuation as volcano erupts near Goma city

Source: TRTWorld and agencies