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Nyiragongo is a volcano in central Africa and the creator of legends and tragedy. The stratovolcano is one of eight unresting mountains in the Virunga range, caused by the East African Rift. Together with Nyamuragira in the same range, it is the mound behind two fifths of all historical eruptions in Africa. One of the continent's most active volcanoes is located north of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the border to Rwanda, and had its last eruption in early 2002. The volcano is 3,469 metres tall.

January 17, 2002: The first warning of hell was a red sky and ash falling like rain. Within two days, the city of Goma and 14 nearby villages had been flooded with rapidly flowing lava. Houses burned, people fled, there was no food or fresh water and no working roads to get aid to them. It looked like the beginning of yet another great African disaster.

Luckily, there was no second big eruption, no epidemic broke out as the refugees returned to their homes clad in lava. About fifty people burned to ashes when they were caught in the flood, and almost all buildings of Goma burned or were otherwise damaged, but all in all, the predicted catastrophe did not happen.

People who experienced the 1977 eruption of Nyiragongo were less fortunate. The wave of lava came at night at a high speed, up to 100 km/hr, and as usual there was almost no warning beforehand. Many were caught asleep, and an unknown number of people died. Had they been awake, it would not have helped them - the lava flow was almost a kilometre wide. It stopped just outside Goma, so the city was spared.

Nyiragongo is such a ticking bomb because of its highly fluid lava. Unlike many other inland volcanoes it contains very little silica. This makes it flow almost like water. In fact, until the eruption in 1977 there was a famous lake of lava in the crater of the mountain. The volcano also has nearly a hundred parasitic cones which may open suddenly and devastatingly.

Mount Nyiragongo appears to have been named after a villain of the legends of the Bantu. Nyiragongo was the enemy of Ryang'ombe, who lived in the volcano of Muhavura. Now our hero - Ryang'ombe, that is - chased and chastised this fiend with his fiery sword. First he chopped his enemy's home, Mount Mikeno, in two pieces, from top to bottom. Then he drove Nyiragongo westward, to the mountain which bears his name. Ryang'ombe cut off the peak, threw Nyiragongo in, and piled stones over him to keep him there. Every time the two have another fight, the volcano erupts anew. In modern times they have fought in 1884, 1891, 1894, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1911, 1918, 1920-21, 1927-77 (a long battle), 1977, 1982, 1994-96, 2001 and 2002.

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