Cameroon: Lake Nyos Thirty Years on

Cameroon: Lake Nyos Thirty Years on


Thirty years ago in 1986 a terrible disaster hit the villages

situated in the vicinity of Lake Nyos in Cameroon. Here are some impression garnered on a recent visit:

After breakfast Bro Duncan MacGilvray mhm and myself set off for our return journey to Bamenda. Fr Tiberius Vuni mhm accompanies us for the first leg, which will take us to lake Nyos.

I am really curious to see what this lake and the surrounding area looks like thirty years after the terrible disaster in which more than 1600 people died asphyxiated by a carbon dioxide gas cloud released from the volcanic lake (A register of names in Fonfuka puts the figure at 1660). That disaster happened on 21st August 1986. It sparked a lively scientific interest world-wide. Locally all manner of fanciful theories were advanced to explain the origin of the catastrophe. A Dutch writer interested in the genesis of mythical stories traced the evolution of such story telling in the case of the Nyos disaster. His book 'Stikvallei'- 'Valley of suffocation' – makes for fascinating reading.

Bro Duncan views lake

Fr James Nielen mhm was one of the first to come to the area of the disaster and to describe what had happened. Here is the text of a moving account he wrote to Archbishop Paul Verdzekov, Bamenda.

Read more

A purpose built tarmac road now leads up to the lake. Various scientific contraptions including an installation preventing any build-up of gas deep down at the bottom have been installed in the centre of the lake. An early warning system alerts guards to any dangerous build-up of gas in the lake.

Early warning

After the tragic event the survivors in the villages of the surrounding area were evacuated and resettled. Some were resettled in camps along the main ring road: Bua-Bua 1,2 and 3. Fred ten Horn (former Mill Hill missionary) and Jaap Nielen mhm played a major part in getting survivors resettled. Over the years some families have returned to their abandoned villages such as Su-Bum and Nyos. But curious local visitors to the lake are still wary of coming to the shores of the lake. A small party we meet on our way up from the lake stays well clear of its shores glancing at the hazy waters from a safe distance. Is it the power of myth or the mistrust of technological intervention that scares them off?

Fons Eppink mhm

Village of Nyos

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