Vanuatu officials yesterday ordered the complete evacuation of an island in the Pacific archipelago where a rumbling, belching volcano is threatening to blow.
Boats were soon to begin ferrying residents off Ambae island, which is home to about 11,000 people, in a process expected to take about a week. The Manaro volcano has been increasingly active for a week or more, raising fears of a major eruption.
Government spokesman Hilaire Bule said ministers decided they couldn't risk people's lives and so ordered the compulsory evacuation. Previously, people had been evacuated to other areas on the island itself.
Ambae resident Lilian Garae said she could see "smoke coming out from the hills" and hear regular booming noises from the volcano. She said she was waiting to hear when she might have to leave her home and where she might be sent.
The activity measure of the volcano was raised last weekend to Level 4, on a scale in which Level 5 represents a major eruption, and an emergency was declared Monday.
New Zealand's military flew a plane over the volcano on Tuesday, and said huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks were billowing from the crater.
Vanuatu's Ambae Island.
Source: 1 NEWS
Some residents have left the island voluntarily. Officials say they have no real way of predicting what the volcano will do next and that evacuees will just have to wait it out.
Ambae island has long been volcanically active. A previous eruption in 2005 forced about 3,300 people to temporarily leave their homes and relocate elsewhere on the island, but didn't lead to an evacuation of the island itself.
Dickinson Tevi, a spokesman for the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, said the relief agency has been shipping water and shelter equipment to Ambae island.
"People are quite afraid with the sound of rumbling going on," he said. "They are very uncertain and afraid."