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Thousands ordered to evacuate Vanuatu island as volcano threatening to blow

Thousands ordered to evacuate Vanuatu island as volcano threatening to blow

11,000 people were ordered to evacuate an island in Vanuatu where a rumbling volcano is threatening to erupt.

Officials in the Pacific archipelago decided they could not risk people’s lives and so ordered the compulsory evacuation of Ambae island.

Ambae is one of about 65 inhabited islands in the Pacific nation about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.

Officials raised the activity measure of the volcano to level four at the weekend, on a scale in which level five represents a major eruption. On Monday officials declared an emergency and had been relocating people close to the volcano to other parts of the island.

New Zealand’s military flew over the volcano on Tuesday and said huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks were billowing from the crater.

Some residents have already left the island voluntarily. Officials say they have no real way of predicting what the volcano will do next and that evacuees would have to wait it out.

Government spokesman Hilaire Bule said the evacuation would be carried out by boat and continue until 6 October. He said residents would be moved onto nearby islands. Officials were setting up two sites on Pentecost Island, he said, where evacuees would be housed in government buildings or in temporary camp sites.

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.”

Bule said the government had allocated 200m vatu ($1.9m) toward the evacuation effort and was deploying 60 police officers to help people leave and to ensure there was no looting.

“We’ve prepared for cyclones by putting evacuation centers on the island but we are not ready for a volcanic eruption,” Bule said. “The government has to put a policy in place to cater for this in the future.”

Vanuatu is home to about 280,000 people and is prone to natural disasters, with a half-dozen active volcanoes as well as regular cyclones and earthquakes. It sits on the Pacific’s “ring of fire”, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.