Missionaries in Congo Assisting Victims of Volcano

Caritas International and United Nations Mobilize

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GOMA, Congo, JAN. 23, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Religious missionary communities in Congo have mobilized to distribute aid to the victims of the volcanic eruption that partially buried the city of Goma.

Caritas International and Caritas-Goma are assessing the number of people who have lost their homes in the wake of the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on Jan. 17.

Antonina Lo Schiavo, a lay missionary who has spent 30 years in Congo helping Xaverian missionaries, said that «by covering the central part of the city, the lava has cut Goma in half, engulfing everything it found in its path.»

Damage is considerable. More than 80% of the buildings have collapsed or are seriously damaged. U.N. officials have described it as a «humanitarian catastrophe.»

Estimates vary on the number of dead. Some «speak of more than 150 — 80 of whom lost their lives when a gas station they were looting exploded,» the missionary said. «But I think it is too early to give more precise data.»

«Now that the eruption has ended, people are returning to the city, because they say it is better to die in one´s country than in Rwanda, a foreign country,» the missionary continued.

«Aid is arriving,» Lo Schiavo added. «We are creating teams of people to distribute it, in order to avoid plundering and lynching.»

The U.N. offices in Geneva estimate that $15 million in emergency aid is needed immediately. Food and water are lacking and people are threatened with infections.

Aid from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees has left Ngara in western Tanzania. It includes food, blankets and plastic tents for 15,000 families.

Thirty tons of aid of the U.N.´s World Food Program has arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The aid comes from Italy and Norway.

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