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Food Distribution Underway in Goma - 2002-01-23


Large-scale food distribution is underway in Congo's volcano-stricken city, Goma. The havoc done by last week's earthquake made it almost impossible to deliver supplies either by road or air.

Officials at the U.N. World Food Program say the agency's food distribution operation is fully underway in Goma. During the coming days, they plan to distribute enough emergency rations of maize, beans, and oil to feed 450,000 people.

The delivery of aid is being made easier by the opening of a road connecting the two halves of the town. A giant lava stream had blocked the road, but Goma residents built a make-shift track across the stream using rubble and chunks of crushed lava.

Thousands of people, on foot, cars and motorbikes, are now using the road to search for water and look for lost loved ones.

Luisa Colasimone, spokeswoman for the aid agency Doctors Without Borders, says the make-shift road is vital to the delivery of supplies. "There has been a bridge built over the lava stream and this, if it works and if it is stable and it continues to be used, will facilitate enormously the help, the aid coming from the NGO's present on the ground, because until now it was extremely difficult," she said. "The northern route of access to Goma was completely blocked and the airport could only receive very small planes."

But the crisis is far from over. According to the aid agency Oxfam, the eruption has left 60,000 people homeless. And there is a danger that earth tremors could cause more buildings to collapse.

Goma is still being rocked by regular quakes measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale. Professor Dieu-Donne Waffula, a volcano expert from the Bukavu Research Center in Congo, says Goma is experiencing earth tremors every couple of hours.

Every time the ground shakes, Professor Waffula says, terrified people telephone to ask what is happening. "Sometimes every two minutes or three minutes," he said. "I receive many calls what is happening? People are just afraid about the volcano eruption and after that earthquakes."

In the neighboring town of Gisenyi, local authorities say the quakes have killed four people, wounded 18 and wrecked more than 400 buildings.

Professor Waffula says the quakes are being felt up to 100 kilometers away in Rwanda and Congo.

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