Evacuation of Ambae to be ‘compulsory’

The weight of the ash in some parts of Ambae collapsed some roofs.
The weight of the ash in some parts of Ambae collapsed some roofs.

REIMPOSING a state of emergency on Ambae, Vanuatu’s government insists the volcanic island’s entire population must be evacuated.

The volcano at the island’s centre, Manaro, has been erupting in phases since last year. But its activity intensified in the past week, causing ash fall so severe that the sun was blocked.

Vanuatu’s Meteorological and Geo-Hazards Department raised the threat level to three (the maximum level is five) last weekend.

The director of the department, Esline Garaebiti, said its staff were closely monitoring Manaro, which she said was in its fourth phase of activity since last September.

Each phase has seen an intensification of volcanic activity, with this month’s eruption leaving the island blanketed in ash.

“We’re seeing very significant impacts on the island at the moment,” she explained, adding that after the latest eruption, there was particularly heavy ashfall in Ambae’s southern parts.

“Our technical team on site has estimated about 200 millimetres of ash on some parts.”

After two earlier evacuation exercises, the Council of Ministers has moved swiftly with a two-month evacuation plan which it describes as compulsory.

One of Ambae’s three MPs, Jacob Mata, said some local people will want to stay, and should be allowed to do so.

But the Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat said this time it was different from a previous, voluntary evacuation earlier this year.

“I think that the people might have been thinking that the situation will be stable, will be okay,’’ he said.

“At this stage it’s very clear that the situation will only get worse in the days to come, and so it’s important for the people to move out of the island.

“We are, as a government, the council of ministers have already made that decision for them to move. And we will be asking their co-operation to co-operate with us so that we can get them to safety.’’