Vanuatu steps up evacuation as volcano spews ash

Image: Residents carry their possessions as they prepare to board a boat at Lolowai Port as they evacuate due to the Manaro Voui volcano continuing to emenate smoke and ash on Vanuatu’s northern island of Ambae in the South Pacific, October 1, 2017. Picture taken October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Bohane

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LOLOWAI, Vanuatu (Reuters) – Vanuatu hopes to evacuate all 11,000 people from its northern island of Ambae by Wednesday, with a flotilla of boats ferrying people to nearby islands as a volcano spewing rock and ash into the air threatens to erupt, disaster officials said on Monday.

Manaro Voui volcano, the South Pacific island nation’s largest, was seen hurling steam and rocks into the air by New Zealand vulcanologist Brad Scott who flew over it on Saturday.

National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Michel Buleban said it was possible everyone would be off the island by Wednesday, but that would depend on the ships available.

A flotilla of small boats, barges and supply ships have ferried people off Ambae to the closest islands, Maewo, Pentecost and Espiritu Santo over the past few days.

“The evacuation of Ambae is expected to be completed over the coming days and our focus is on helping the government of Vanuatu meet the immediate needs of those who have been affected,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee said on Monday.

New Zealand was airlifting tarpaulins, hygiene kits and generators to Vanuatu, while Australia was sending a Bay Class landing ship HMAS Choules, due to arrive by Wednesday.

“There’s a certain calmness about the evacuation, but there’s a deep sadness behind it. They don’t know what’s ahead,” said Red Cross spokesman Joe Cropp, who spoke by phone from a relief camp in Santo.

Ash from the volcano has polluted the water in Ambae, so the Red Cross has scrambled to distribute drinking water.

“When you fly in you can see the volcano. When you land you can’t see it or hear it. But you can smell the ash in the air,” Cropp said.

(Reporting Ben Bohane and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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