This 2002 eruption started with a few signs in December 2000 where there were a few earthquakes/ volcanic tremors in the region that were prolonged. Then on 6th February 2001, the neighboring Volcano, Mount Nyamuragira erupted for 2 weeks. In October 2001, another volcanic tremor was felt in the region followed by another in January 2002 and this was accompanied by emissions believed to have come from the mountain as a dark plume with sounds from the center of mount Nyiragongo. This earthquake remained strong until 16th January, 2002. A few hours after the tremors had ceased, the 2002 eruption of nyiragongo started at exactly 08:25 local time on 17th January according to a few sources.
The surrounding area of nyiragongo is always monitored despite the challenges of theft of equipment limiting results however, before this eruption, nearer to the rim of the crater, the temperature was measured at 28’C as opposed to the usual temperature of 5-9’C and the locals also noticed steam coming out of some holes and cracks in the neighboring areas. January 17th 2002 saw the volcano giving way, the hot red lava spewing out of the crater lake flowing through the 1977 fault which reopened and extended it and more magma from a deeper source came. Lava was spewing from several vents that flowed through the Goma airport up to Lake Kivu until late in the evening. Another vent opened up west side of Kibati.
The death toll of the 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo was estimated at about 170 people with more than 300,000 people fleeing from the lava imposed areas to neighboring country Rwanda. The eruption went on up to night time and is believed to have calm down later that night though some lava flowed further to Lake Kivu for a few more days. This eruption created a delta of about 120 meters long, a depth of 60 meters and 800 meters wide. So many properties were destroyed by this eruption including a third of Goma International airport, homes of about 120,000 people, business in Goma town, 45 schools, 3 hospitals and also claimed more lives on the 21st of January after there was an explosion of a gas center that was surrounded by hot lava. This explosion was tragic and left many wounded, about 170 were reported with burns, fractures and intoxication from the fumes that were released into the air. This eruption destroyed 40% of Goma city
The faulting on Nyiragongo and regional tectonic activity is believed to have triggered this volcanic activity and releasing the magma that was stored in the upper conduit and lava lake. The seismic activity continued on after the eruption unlike usual occurrences were the region after an eruption would stabilize. Earthquakes were still felt for a couple of days and the explanation could be the ground getting back after drainage of the lava lake. These earthquakes were felt even as far as Bukavu town of Congo but mostly felt in Goma and Gisenyi town and Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira are believed to have been responsible till date today.
However much Nyiragongo has been known for almost a century with its long time lava lake inside its crater, there are signs of rifting and this may lead to transition from a crater lake and may be the new eruptive style for the next Nyiragongo eruptions. Just like the neighboring Mount Nyamuragira had a crater lake some years back like in the 20th Century but with several eruptions especially the 1938 that drained the lava lake and since then the activity is now only visible on the flanks. Another eruption threat was witnessed in 2005 but the area is being monitored constantly.