Over a week after the eruption of the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the city of Goma, once engulfed with fear of being flooded with hot lava and ash, is slowly returning to normal life as shops reopen and people return home to pick up the pieces.
"Today, the city of Goma has just woken up. Not everything has returned to normal, but still we are seeing a resumption of activities in the city," Jean Kasereka, a local taxi driver, told Xinhua on Tuesday.
At Alanine market, one of the busiest in Goma, shouts of vendors and bargaining seemed just like the good old days, not least before the nearby volcano erupted into activity on May 22, killing at least 32 people. The city, which is located at the foot of the volcano, escaped a potentially enormous disaster as the lava flows stopped on the outskirts on May 23.
But with constant seismic tremors in some parts of the city, fears of a fresh eruption forced local authorities to evacuate its people to designated areas as a precaution since Thursday. With nearly 400,000 people evacuated, Goma, home to over 1 million inhabitants, suddenly became a "ghost town".
"Shops were closed and people were busy rushing out of the city," a resident told Xinhua on its way to take refuge in nearby Rwanda. But with a gradual decrease in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes related to the volcanic activity, thousands of evacuated residents start returning home to pick up the pieces, the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) reported on Monday.
"The fleeing residents began to gradually return to the city. Now a considerable number of buyers come to get what they need. Here, things are going really well," said Kasereka Wangebe, a vendor at market Alanine.
Still not out of the woods
Though people on the street are optimistic about Goma's slow return to normal life, the city is still not out of the woods.
Local authorities said on Monday that "the possibility of an eruption on land or under Lake Kivu can still not be ruled out for the moment". About 71 tremors were also recorded on Monday, most of which have not been felt by the population, said Ndjike Kaiko, spokesperson for the local crisis management unit.
"We therefore recommend that the population remain vigilant, listen to the information and strictly observe the measures adopted by the provincial authorities. We are still in the red phase," Kaiko said.
A team of volcanologists has set up a camera near the crater to better monitor the evolution of the volcano, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Another team is expected on Thursday.
During a press conference on Saturday in Kinshasa, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi called on people to "remain cautious" and advised people not to return Goma.
"I strongly advise against it (returning Goma). At this stage, we do not yet have information that would allow us to authorise the return," he said.
"We are not yet certain. Scientists must reassure us 100 per cent. Even if there is still 1 per cent uncertainty, I would not wish the people go back to Goma," he added.