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Babies struggling after eruption

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GOMA, Congo — If he lives, Simir Ezamu's baby will always be reminded of the circumstances of his birth. His name is Volcano.

"I gave birth to him on the side of the road as I was fleeing the eruption," said Ezamu, 33. "So what other name could I have given him?"

Mount Nyiragongo erupted Jan. 17, spewing tons of lava through the eastern Congolese city of Goma, on the Rwandan border, killing an estimated 46 people.

The infant Volcano spent the first five days of his life wrapped in a blanket at the shore of Lake Kivu as his mother waited for a barge to the Congolese town of Bukavu, where she hopes they will be safe.

Fire and molten lava reduced the family's house to cinders. Now Ezamu worries about her baby's health.

"He does not breathe properly, this bad smell of lava seems to have affected him," Ezamu said Wednesday.

Since the eruption, there appear to have been several cases of stress-induced labor in Goma, where most of the already meager medical facilities were destroyed.

"I was walking through dried lava this morning with a pregnant woman when she started having contractions, and she was only in her eighth month," Congolese surgeon Jonathan Lucy said.

"Everybody is stressed, and this has a psychological effect on pregnant women. But we don't have the right infrastructure, nor do we have any statistics," he said. "Surely in a city without an incubator, premature children have no chance."

At least 10,000 families in Goma are homeless, and many are still searching for relatives missing since the eruption forced nearly everyone to flee the city, once home to 500,000. The stress of dealing with such a disaster is compounded by continuing tremors.

Patrick Nicholson, spokesman for the Catholic relief group COFAD, said blankets and tents trucked in from neighboring Rwanda were distributed Wednesday.

But Ezamu said she would rather try her luck in Bukavu. Now she is among thousands who walked across the border from Goma to neighboring Gisenyi, Rwanda, where boats can land and take them to Congolese towns at the southern end of the lake.

"It seems the mayor down there is helping," she said. "The situation has been so bad here that I believe it must be better there."

She rocked her baby to a Congolese lullaby, which tells the story of a beautiful Congo and wonderful Africa, but Ezamu said she knew the words did not ring true.

Residents in Bukavu said by telephone that displaced people continued to arrive there by boat and by road.

"Yesterday we counted 13,400 displaced; that's a lot to cope with," Bukavu governor Norbert Basengezi said by telephone.

But he said most had managed to find at least temporary shelter with residents or at a local boarding school.