Pacific News Minute: New Eruption on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island Forces More Evacuations

Jul 26, 2018

Ambae Island
Credit NASA/JPL/NGA / https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06675

Worldwide interest in the eruption of Kīlauea remains high, as lava flows continue to destroy buildings and reshape Hawaiʻi Island. Less attention is focused on Ambae Island in Vanuatu, where the Manaro volcano has been erupting on and off for more than ten months.

After the first major eruption, last September, an improvised sea lift carried almost all of Ambae’s 11,000 inhabitants to safety. Most returned home when Manaro calmed down, but a second major eruption last April dumped almost a foot of ash on many parts of the island, crushing homes under its weight and burying the vegetable gardens people rely on for food.

While the government considered a mandatory evacuation order, it decided instead to make relocation voluntary. Some communities moved to nearby Maewo Island en masse, then hundreds of children followed when their schools became uninhabitable. By June, though, the ash falls stopped and, according to RNZ Pacific, revived gardens started to produce greens again.

But last week, Manaro erupted yet again. Reports say that by Monday, ash had blocked out the sun. Vehicles picking up villagers for evacuation had to use their headlights at noon.

An additional 362 households voluntarily registered for relocation – that’s about a thousand people. And it looks as if leaders have arrived at the unpalatable conclusion that everyone may have to leave. 

The Ambae Council of Chiefs has asked the government to move the relocation site from Maewo to the larger island of Espiritu Santo. Vanuatu’s Daily Post reported that the chiefs believe Maewo is too small to accommodate all 11,000 Ambaeans, and the newspaper adds that more than 500 have already purchased plots of land on Santo on their own.