4 Oct 2017

11,500 ni-Vanuatu now evacuated from Ambae

9:19 pm on 4 October 2017

Latest estimates from Vanuatu indicate there are now about 6000 eruption evacuees housed at 51 centres on Santo, about 3000 in Maewo and Pentecost and at least 500 in the capital, Port Vila.

Authorities say the actual number of people evacuated to Santo is probably closer to 8000 including those billeted with family members.

The evacuation phase of the exodus, due to the Manaro Voui volcano erupting on the island of Ambae, is reportedly drawing to a close, three days ahead of schedule.

Disaster authorities are now being assisted with help from French, Australian and New Zealand defence personnel and various international NGOs, which have brought with them tonnes of relief supplies.

The first of two Australian Navy vessels re-routed on their way to New Zealand for military exercises is due to arrive today to assist with the relief effort.

The French Air Force is flying in aid from New Caledonia, with an aircraft to shuttle supplies between the islands hosting Ambae evacuees.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai was expected to visit Espiritu Santo today after a stop on Pentecost, his home island.

Speaking at the daily planning meeting this morning, Vanuatu cabinet minister Ham Lini said the welfare of people in evacuation centres was the top priority for government.

He urged those on the ground to address the shortage of water, food and shelter in the camps.

The director of the National Disaster Management Office Shadrack Welegtabit said the provincial headquarters in Luganville will now be the operating hub for the distribution of all relief supplies to those in need.

Vanuatu struggling with Ambae mass evacuation

The volcano on Ambae Photo: RNZ / YouTube

Police were also reportedly having a difficult time locating and getting around 70 people still on Ambae off the island.

It is believed they are unwilling to leave the island.

Scientists think volcano settling down

Meanwhile, Vanuatu's Geohazards department said the threat from the Manaro Voui volcano on Ambae was easing, although it still maintains its level four threat status - the second highest.

It said recent observations indicated seismic activity was now limited to the volcano's crater lake, where a new island has formed in the centre.

The department said the possibility of a large eruption affecting the whole island was now looking less likely.

However, it could still be months before residents of Ambae can return, as the volcano is still puffing away. It's understood they can only return to Ambae when the threat is downgraded to level three.

According to Ham Lini, the Minister in charge of Vanuatu's disaster management office - the state of emergency would remain in place despite an apparent stabilisation of the volcano.

Mr Lini visited several of the 51 evacuation camps on Espiritu Santo on Wednesday where more than 6200 people have been registered.

The minister admitted he had heard there were many complaints from evacuees at the camps, but said that things are improving.

Mr Lini says the state of emergency will remain for its full two weeks after which the Vanuatu Council of Minister will review the situation.

"People think that maybe it is going down but it is still on level 4," he said.

"And it will actually be on a level where maybe there can be an eruption or maybe it will die down. But we believe that in two weeks time, the council of ministers will decide whether the people have to move back or stay on (in neighbouring islands)."

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