Eruption blankets an island in Vanuatu in volcanic ash
THOUSANDS of people have been ordered to evacuate an island in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu after a volcanic eruption sent thick ash bucketing down on a village.
A state of emergency was imposed for Ambae after a volcano at the centre of the island, which has been erupting in bursts since September, increased its activity over the past few days.
The island was temporarily evacuated last year when the Manaro volcano began erupting but since March authorities have been ramping up efforts to get locals to relocate permanently.
The country's Meteorological and Geo-Hazards Department upgraded the threat level from two to three on Saturday.
According to reports from locals the ash fall was so thick after the recent eruptions that it completely blocked out the sun.
Government politician Ralph Regenvanu said on Twitter that the Cabinet had re- imposed a state of emergency and ordered the compulsory evacuation of the entire island, which was once home to about 10,000 people.
Residents are being offered respite in neighbouring islands, with most heading to Vanuatu's large, north island of Espiritu Santo.
While 362 households have voluntarily registered for relocation, it is believed around eight thousand people could still be on the island.
Ambae resident Lillian Garae said it has been hard to sleep because of the volcano's noise and that the ash is aggravating asthma in some young children. "We cannot see some of the people working because of all the dust," she said.
Garae, 39, said she had lived on Ambae all her life and would now consider a permanent move, despite leaving behind the life she knows.
She said the ash cloud is affecting some surrounding islands as well, so relocating to one of them may not be much better.
"I want to leave but I don't know where I'm going to live, so I will stay on Ambae," she said.
Vanuatu sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common. France, New Zealand and Australia have provided aid and financial help for previous evacuations.