Vanuatu volcano evacuees face two more weeks before going home

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The 11,000 residents of a Vanuatu island who were evacuated from an erupting volcano will likely need to wait at least two more weeks before they can return home, officials said yesterday.

Government ministers have decided to extend a state of emergency on Ambae island until October 24 even though the Manaro volcano has stabilised.

All of the island’s residents were moved by boats to surrounding islands in the Pacific archipelago in an evacuation effort that ended last week. Government spokesman Hilaire Bule said officials need the extra time to check the island’s water supplies and sanitation and to plan an orderly resettlement. He said the island was probably safe enough for residents to return immediately.

“But we need to make a good plan,” he said. “We cannot just go and ship all the people back.”

Photo provided by the Vanuatu Meteorological and GeoHazards Department dated October 1 shows an aerial view of the volcanic cone formed in Lake Vui near the summit of Ambae Island, Vanuatu. – AP

Officials have downgraded the volcano’s activity to Level 3 on a scale in which Level 5 represents a major eruption. The volcano was at Level 4 during the evacuation.

Brad Scott, a New Zealand volcanologist who was helping in Vanuatu until earlier this week, said the volcano was continuing to spew volcanic ash and have regular explosions.

But he said the amount of molten material coming to the surface had slowed.