2 Oct 2017

Housing Vanuatu evacuees strains resources

6:55 am on 2 October 2017

Authorities in Vanuatu are struggling to cope as the evacuation of 11,000 people from the volcanic island of Ambae begins in earnest.

More than 7000 of the evacuees are being sent to the neighbouring island of Santo, where RNZ Pacific reporter Koroi Hawkins has been visiting refugees in evacuation centres.

The Pacific nation's government has ordered a mass evacuation of Ambae, after about a week of escalating volcanic observations of Monaro Voui.

A state of emergency was declared on 26 September.

The first boatloads arrived at 1am this morning, with over a 1000 men, women and children disoriented and distraught at having been uprooted from their homes.

"One woman I spoke to broke down in tears telling me she did not know if she would ever see her home again," said Koroi Hawkins.

"One man said Ambae is like an engine room with the volcano rumbling constantly between eruptions."

Nine more boats carrying up to 2000 more people departed Ambae this morning, at least seven of them are expected to arrive in Santo this afternoon. Others are heading to the nearby islands of Pentecost and Maewo.

Meanwhile, local authorities are having trouble keeping track of the number of people leaving Ambae as private charter flights are flying out the sick and elderly.

The Red Cross on Santo said the 19 evacuation centres available on the island were nowhere near enough for the thousands expected later today, let alone by the end of the week.

The director of the Vanuatu national disaster management office, Shadrack Welegtabit, said the main focus for now was getting everybody off the island but he said they were seeking international expertise to help manage the camps once they were properly established.

Authorities said it would take up until Friday to get everybody off the island but the challenge of feeding and housing everyone was already putting a strain on local resources with requests for additional funding already being raised in local planning meetings.

Meanwhile, senior students evacuated from Ambae needed to prepare for their exams in a few weeks time. Authorities are organising classes and lodging for them but one student, a young girl with tears in her eyes, said she did not want to be separated from her parents and she did not feel like going back to school because she had no books, no school uniform and no stationery.

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