Vanuatu again orders evacuation of island as volcano erupts

July 26, 2018 - 8:50 pm

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Pacific nation of Vanuatu on Friday again ordered thousands of people to leave Ambae island as a volcano erupted and filled the sky with ash.

Government lawmaker 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.

The island was temporarily evacuated last September when the eruption cycle began. Since March, authorities have been encouraging people to permanently relocate by offering residence on two neighboring islands.

On Saturday, authorities raised the volcanic alert level to 3, indicating a minor eruption.

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.

Ambae is about 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) and is one of about 65 inhabited islands in Vanuatu, which is home to 280,000 people.

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.