Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, erupted on Saturday night, causing torrents of lava to pour into villages and leaving at least 15 people dead and thousand to flee.
Photos and videos showed the river of lava engulfing buildings in nearby villages and tinting the sky red. The lava stopped short of Goma, a city of two million, just south of the volcano.
More than 500 homes were destroyed. The 15 dead included nine people who died in a traffic accident as residents fled, four people who tried to escape from a prison and two who were burned to death, a government spokesperson said.
As officials continue counting the damage, the death toll is likely to rise.
Residents said there was little warning before the eruption.
The International Federation of Red Cross said that between 3,000 and 5,000 people fled from Goma into Rwanda. More than 170 children are feared missing and 150 others have been separated from their families, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF officials said they are organizing transit centers to help unaccompanied children in the wake of the disaster.
A government delegation has been sent to Goma to help with the disaster, and some residents began returning to their smouldering homes on Sunday.
Authorities are warning that the danger may not yet be over and that seismic activity in the area could cause further lava flows.
Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s more active volcanoes, and its last eruption in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120,000 homeless.