October 4, 2017 / 5:23 AM / 5 months ago

Vanuatu in final evacuation of island threatened by volcano

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The last residents on Vanuatu’s northern island of Ambae will be evacuated on Wednesday, officials said, as a volcano that has been spitting rock and ash into the air for more than a week shows signs of stabilising.

Vanuatu was forced to use a flotilla of small boats, barges and supply ships to evacuate roughly 11,000 people in recent days after Manaro Voui volcano, the South Pacific island nation’s largest, threatened to erupt.

“There are just several hundred people left, many of whom are officials assisting with the evacuation. We expect the evacuation to be complete today,” said a Vanuatu official, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

Although confident of evacuating the vast majority of Ambae residents, officials may struggle to convince everyone to leave amid fears of losing vulnerable livestock and crops.

Residents evacuated due to the Manaro Voui volcano, located on Vanuatu's northern island Ambae, receive food and water at an evacuation center in Luganville, on Vanuatu's Espiritu Santos Island located in the South Pacific, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Bohane

Ambae’s population has been moved to the closest islands of Maewo, Pentecost and Espiritu Santo until the threat of an eruption has eased.

Although the volcano remains at a level four, the second highest level in Vanuatu’s alert system, aid workers said the amount of rock and ash being emitted had stabilised.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force plane moves on the tarmac after it landed carrying aid supplies for residents evacuated due to the Manaro Voui volcano on Vanuatu's northern island of Ambae, at the Santo-Pekoa airfield in Luganville, on Vanuatu's Espiritu Santos Island located in the South Pacific, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Bohane

With the evacuation nearly complete, focus has shifted to ensuring those displaced have enough food and water, with shipments from Australia and New Zealand filling an urgent need.

Despite evacuating to safety, aid workers said locals are anxious to return to assess the damage.

“The biggest source of stress and anxiety to many is they have been told to leave and they couldn’t take their livestock, which is so important to their subsistence and income,” said Georgia Tacey, Vanuatu country director at ‎Save the Children Australia.

Vanuatu is one of the world’s poorest nations, where locals are almost entirely reliant on food grown in their garden to survive, aid workers said.

Reporting by Colin Packham

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