11 Oct 2017

State of emergency extended in Vanuatu

12:08 pm on 11 October 2017

A state of emergency in Vanuatu has been extended for another two weeks after an erupting volcano forced thousands to flee.

Red Cross workers say more medical supplies and hygiene kits are needed to support the elderly in evacuation centres.

Red Cross workers say more medical supplies and hygiene kits are needed to support the elderly in evacuation centres. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Vanuatu's Council of Ministers made the decision for the island of Ambae during an urgent meeting yesterday.

Eleven thousand people from Ambae were evacuated a week ago to neighbouring islands.

They have been in camps on Santo, Maewo and Pentecost, awaiting a decision from the government on whne they can return to their island where volcanic ash has contaminated waterways and killed crops.

Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said the extension would allow more time for assessments before letting people return.

Mr Salwai said the extension followed advice from the Disaster Management Office and the Geo-Hazards Department.

He said the Council of Ministers has also instructed disaster management authorities and the Penama Provincial government to finalise a repatriation plan before a decision was made to move people back to Ambae.

The prime minister said extending the state of emergency meant the enhanced presence of the police on Ambae would continue.

Vanuatu evacuees face more time in limbo

The evacuees from Ambae are facing more uncertainty following the eruption.

Most of them are in 74 evacuation centres on neighbouring Santo waiting to hear when or if they can return.

One of the rooms at the special needs evacuation centre in the Mormon church facility compound on Espiritu Santo.

One of the rooms at the special needs evacuation centre in the Mormon church facility compound on Espiritu Santo. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Ambae community leader James Aru said the authorities on Santo had assured them they were welcome, but people are keen to get home.

"Some of them said, well, if it's longer then we'll be able to cope with the situation and stay in Santo for a couple of months or years but most of them they still wanted to go back.

The Red Cross' Shirley Jones said evacuees were coping well despite overcrowding.

Ms Jones said 1500 more tents were needed as well as adult diapers, blankets, mattresses and washing kits.

"People are coping very well. The main question that the people are asking is 'when are we going back, is Ambae okay now, is everything settled, can we go back?'"

People being evacuated from Ambae

People being evacuated from Ambae Photo: Nixon Garae Tambeana

Ms Jones said there was a plan in place to provide food for the evacuees for the remainder of the month.

She said they were receiving local vegetables, rice, noodles and tinned food.

Ambae volcano calms down

Vulcanologist Brad Scott, who has been helping the Vanuatu authorities make assessments said the erupting volcano appeared to be calming down.

On Friday, the alert level for Manaro was lowered from level four to level three on the five-level scale.

Mr Scott of New Zealand's GNS Science flew over the volcano on Saturday and saw evidence the eruption was starting to weaken.

The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash.

The volcano on Ambae Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

He said the lava flow had stopped and seismic energy had decreased over the previous 30 hours.

"On Friday the lava flow was all flowing but by Saturday the lava flow had stopped flowing and the scoria eruptions from the two little volcanic cones that had grown on the island, they'd also slowed down and one of the vents was just making some really small minor volcanic ash explosions."

Mr Scott said ash falls from the small explosions were only being dispersed a few hundred metres.

"The eruptions at Ambae traditionally only last around a month to a month and a half.

"This one's been going a bit over a month so if it's behaving like it has in the eruptions in 1966, 2005 and 2016. It is probably slowing down and stopping," Mr Scott said.

And he also observed the volcanoes at Lopevi and Ambrym continued in a steady state of volcanic unrest.

"The activity was neither increasing nor decreasing," he said.

NZ provides additional support for Vanuatu

The New Zealand government has announced a further $US500,000 worth of support to Vanuatu communities impacted by the evacuation.

The NZ Defence Force delivered 800 shelter kits, 800 tarpaulins, 200 mother-and-baby kits and five generators.

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koroi Hawkins

It said it was continuing to work with the Vanuatu government and other partners to support the response.

A total of $US420,000 was being given to New Zealand non-government organisations to work with partners in Vanuatu to provide on-the-ground assistance with $US80,000 going towards the Vanuatu's government's response effort.

Foreign minister Gerry Brownlee said New Zealand's total contribution so far is about $NZ1.3 million (just under $US1million) in addition to technical assistance and supplies already provided.

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