Tens of thousands of people are fleeing Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, fearing another volcanic eruption by Mount Nyiragongo, which spewed lava near the city last week.
Traffic was jammed and pedestrians streamed through the streets, desperate to escape the impending danger.
A new eruption could occur at any moment, the military governor of DR Congo’s North Kivu province, Lieutenant General Constat Ndima Kongba, announced.
He ordered the evacuation of 10 of the 18 neighbourhoods in the city of two million people.
The centre of Goma, which was spared when the volcano erupted last week, is now under threat, with activity being reported near the urban area and Lake Kivu, Lt Gen Kongba said.
“Based on these scientific observations, we cannot currently rule out an eruption on land or under the lake. And this could happen with very little (or no) warning,” he said.
An eruption under Lake Kivu could also have harmful consequences by leading to an explosion of gas in the lake, which could destroy parts of Goma and Gisenyi in neighbouring Rwanda.
Residents were advised to carry very little and told not to return to their homes until advised by authorities.
Officials said that vehicles will be provided to help the evacuation.
Many people were seen heading north-west towards the town of Sake and east towards Rwanda.
International organisations such as the UN mission in DR Congo had on Wednesday already begun evacuating their staff.
Maguy Balume told the Associated Press that she left her home with her two children and is heading for Sake.
“I am with my two children heading towards Sake, after leaving my home. My husband is on a mission in Kinshasa and I don’t know how I’m going to meet him,” she said.
“I don’t think about my house because my family’s safety and health come first. I can build another house if I want to. I know that my God will save Goma.”
Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, turned the dark sky fiery red on Saturday night and then spewed torrents of lava into villages on the outskirts of Goma, destroying more than 500 homes and resulting in the deaths of more than 32 people.
Its last eruption was in 2002, leaving hundreds dead.
The lava coated the airport runways and also left more than 100,000 homeless in the aftermath.
The volcano also erupted in 1977, killing more than 600 people.