Vanuatu volcano forces evacuations

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The volcano Manaro, from the ground. (Photo: Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department)

A state of emergency has been declared on the northern Vanuatu island of Ambae, following increased volcanic activity in the past few days.

The volcano, known as Manaro, has been rumbling for weeks with escalating signs of activity. Of Ambae’s 10,000-plus population, more than 7000 people have already been evacuated to emergency shelters, including 78 staff and students from Penama Adventist College.

In a statement released to Adventist Church members, the director of Adventist Education for the Vanuatu Mission, Gilrick Joshua, said that all students, staff and their families were evacuated on Sunday morning (24 September), after Manaro sent volcanic ash into the sky the previous day. Penama Adventist College deputy principal Freddie Kasso added to the statement, saying ash had fallen on their water source, gardens and school campus.

An aerial shot of the volcano on Ambae. (Photo: National Disaster Management Office)

Vanuatu Mission secretary Pastor Charlie Jimmy this morning confirmed all Adventist Church members and their families are safe, and urged members across the South Pacific to keep Vanuatu in their prayers.

“[Authorities at] the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office continue to monitor the volcanic activity and are prepared to transport people to nearby islands if the situation gets worse,” he said. “We are asking all the members across our region to continue to pray for our church members on the island of Ambae.”

Over the weekend, the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department raised the alert level from three to four, the highest possible level, and warned of “flying rocks and volcanic gas” affecting villages up to 6.5 kilometres from the volcano.

Manaro last erupted in 2005 and is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world.