Goma (DR Congo) (AFP)

It is an ascent that ends in fog, wind, cold and ash dust: volcanologists last weekend assessed the activity of Nyiragongo, the volcano that threatened Goma in the east of the region. Democratic Republic of the Congo with an unexpected eruption on May 22.

Their mission: "to use drones and camera systems to assess landslides and see if the crater is collapsing", explains Christopher Horsley, technical assistant at the OVG.

"We are seeing the fractures that manifested themselves during the eruption," adds Bonheur Rugain, from the OVG.

The Congolese expert also wants to quell a rumor on social networks that the volcano has died out.

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The climb to 3,470 m altitude is done by the trail usually followed by tourists, closed since the eruption (four visitors were at the top of the volcano on May 22, according to the Virunga park. They are safe and sound).

At the start of the ascent, which will last five hours, the weather is clear and warm.

The track has fractures in various places.

The closer the summit gets, the rarer the vegetation is, covered by a greyish ash.

Trees across the path were uprooted by the eruption or by the volcano's seismic activity, which continued a week after the lava flow, experts say.

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The arrival at the top offers a bird's eye view of the crater, in the process of collapsing on itself, in a low rumble, punctuated by explosions.

At nightfall, glowing lava residue is visible at the bottom of the crater.

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A red glow also appears in the distance to the north: the second Nyamuragira volcano is active.

North Kivu is one of the most intense volcanological activity zones in the world.

The team, which also includes seven porters and two cooks, sleeps in small tourist huts on the edge of the crater.

Ash covers the mattresses.

The temperature drops to 10-15 degrees, and the wind blows hard.

This is the second such expedition since the eruption of May 22 and the aftershocks, which led the authorities to consider the worst-case scenario (lava flow in Lake Kivu and release of deadly methane and CO2 for the 1.6 million inhabitants of Goma).

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"Before the eruption, it was painful because we did not have enough financial means. We went irregularly, that is to say once a month," says Célestin Kasereka Mahinda, scientific director of the OVG.

Saturday morning, the descent of the gray, lunar and desert slopes from the summit takes three hours until the return to the green vegetation.

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It is the return to Goma, like tens of thousands of displaced people from Nyiragono, who are beginning to return to the noise and chaos of the city.

© 2021 AFP