Thousands flee their homes as lava from Mount Nyirangongo approaches Goma airport.
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have urged residents of the eastern city of Goma to evacuate after a volcano dominating the area erupted.
Lava from Mount Nyiragongo approached Goma airport late on Saturday, as thousands of residents carrying mattresses and other belongings fled the border city on foot, many towards the Rwandan border. The lava flow has now stopped after reaching the suburbs of Goma, the AFP news agency reported.
The last Nyiragongo eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless.
It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is considered among the most dangerous.
"The evacuation plan for the city of Goma has been activated," Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya tweeted on Saturday night. "The government is discussing urgent measures to take at this time."
The plan was activated after an emergency meeting in Kinshasha, he added.
The presidency said President Felix Tshisekedi will shorten a trip to Europe to return to Congo on Sunday.
The military governor of North Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital, confirmed the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano around 7:00 pm (17:00 GMT).
General Constant Ndima urged the residents of Goma, a city of two million that lies on the southern flank of Mount Nyiragongo and on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, to remain calm.
"Rubber is the target"
Earlier on Saturday, residents reported a strong smell of sulfur on the streets of the eastern city and a red glow filling the sky over the city.
The lava initially flowed east into Rwanda, said Dario Tedesco, a Goma-based volcanologist. But later in the evening, new fractures opened in the volcano that allowed lava to flow south toward Goma, he said.
"Now, Goma is the target," Tedesco told the Reuters news agency. "It's similar to 2002. I think the lava is heading towards the center of the city."
“It could stop earlier or continue. It's difficult to forecast, ”he said.
INSO, which coordinates security for non-governmental organizations, said in a note that lava had cut off a main road leading north of Goma.