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Living beneath a volcano

Despite volcano threat, Goma residents say there's no place like home — but they're ready to run.

The observatory has faced setbacks, such as the theft of computers and expensive equipment during the wars of 2006 to 2008. Goma’s volcanoes are in an area riddled with rebel groups that routinely rape, kill and steal from civilians.

In addition to monitoring volcanic activity, the observatory runs educational campaigns to teach locals, in particular schoolchildren, about volcano safety, such as what to do during an eruption and how to detect “mazukus” — pockets of deadly gases that can bubble up from underground at any time.

The observatory staff is also preparing plans for risk mitigation and evacuation for when Nyiragongo next erupts. There is a system of colors and sirens to advise the population if they need to evacuate Goma; outside the observatory, a tattered flag hangs above a faded billboard warning residents of the different levels of alerts.

An eruption in 1977 killed as many as 2,000 people after a lava lake burst and sent magma racing at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. For some people, there wasn’t time to flee.

In 2002, an eruption in the same volcano fracture sent lava pouring further south and into the city. According to scientists, a new eruption would likely happen even more south and perhaps right in the city itself. “It is a weak region and magma has followed this route before,” said Badriyo.

Metha Bendera, the civil servant, is convinced Goma is a good place to raise his family, which includes 15 children, despite the risks.

“We’ll be warned to leave the town some days or weeks before,” he said. “So I’ll be able to leave.”

Read more about volcano tourism and see a photo gallery of the volcanoes in eastern Congo.