The population of an entire island in Vanuatu is set to be evacuated for the second time in less than a year because of an erupting volcano.
— Collective Spark (@CollectiveSprk) July 28, 2018
— Collective Spark (@CollectiveSprk) July 28, 2018
Around 11,000 people live on Ambae island in the country’s north, where the belching of the Manaro volcano has left homes and crops covered in grey ash.
The volcano’s alert level was raised this week, after ash clouds reportedly turned day into night when they blocked out the Sun.
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu announced via Twitter that the country’s cabinet had extended a state of emergency and that residents would be ordered to leave.
Ambae volcano erupted at 9 pm on 7/26/18 w/ 12 km high ash plume above its summit blanketing the surrounding areas w/ thick ash. #Vanuatu has imposed a state of emergency & evacuated thousand of residents. Alert Level remains at Level 3 via Vanuatu Meteorological & Geohazard Dept pic.twitter.com/JnVCYQuK8D
— jaime s. sincioco (@jaimessincioco) July 28, 2018
“We’re seeing very significant impacts on the island at the moment,” said Garaebiti. “For that latest eruption, there’s been heavy ash fall in the southern parts, while parts of the north were also affected.”
The eruption occurred on Thursday and sent ash flying into the sky. The plume of debris was clearly visible from space, but its impacts were equally dramatic viewed from Earth. The Vanuatu Red Cross released images showing an inky sky and cars driving with their headlights on as ash essentially blocked out the Sun.
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) July 26, 2018
Grey ash has blanketed homes and crops, and emergency officials in Vanuatu are expecting the seismic activity to intensify.
The deteriorating conditions have led the government to issue evacuation orders for the island’s 10,000 residents.
Residents fled Ambae en masse last September, when the volcano began emitting clouds of smoke, and there were signs of hot lava emerging near the surface of its crater. Many have heeded the warning to leave once again. Others, though, say they don’t want to go, fearing overcrowding and a lack of services on neighboring islands.
But Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat says it could soon become too dangerous to stay.
The document also shows the Council of Ministers have approved for the state of emergency to be extended to September 26.
The official sign-off is expected later today.
The Manaro volcano has been active for almost a year, but after a period of relative quiet, ash falls have been steadily increasing since last Thursday.
Photos taken by the Vanuatu Red Cross show darkened midday skies with the sun completely blocked out, and cars driving with their headlights on along roads that look like they are covered in grey snow.
Ambae locals were first evacuated from the island in September last year but were allowed to return after several weeks when conditions eased.
More than 100 people were moved from Ambae to the neighboring island of Santo this week, while a plan was also made to move hundreds more to neighboring Maewo. But thousands remain on the island, where ashfall is predicted to worsen.
Island before the eruption September 2017
The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) said even previously designated safe zones on East Ambae were no longer safe.
The Vanuatu Red Cross, which has been assisting with evacuations, said many roads were no longer accessible and visibility was deteriorating.
“We tried to travel to the South today but we have to turn back, because trees are falling, visibility is very very poor, we cannot see far more than 2 meters,” Augustin Garae, a Vanuatu Red Cross disaster coordinator, wrote in a Facebook post.
Indeed, photos show that the ash has bowed palm trees, clogged rivers, and smothered roads. Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University, likened the weight of the ash to a bucket of sand or shovel full of wet snow.
“It is literally rock, pulverized rock that has been blasted apart during the eruption,” she told Earther. “When it rains and the ash gets waterlogged it is even heavier.”
River clogged with ash
In addition to hampering evacuation efforts, ash also poses a huge health threat. The tiny particles and shards of volcanic glass it contains can get caught in lungs, aggravating respiratory problems.
Manson Tari, the NDMO’s Penama Province disaster officer, said the whole island should be permanently evacuated.
“The situation is becoming more critical compared to other months or even last year,” he said.
Mr Tari said the eruptions could get even worse.
“Many hazards that were not, never seen, we are now seeing them,” he said.
Island before eruption 2017
Melinda Aru, an analyst with the country’s Geohazards Department, said they raised the alert level to three last Saturday.
“The ash will continue to affect the communities around Ambae and any neighboring island following the wind direction,” she said.
Ambae is one of about 65 inhabited islands in Vanuatu, which lies in the Pacific Ocean about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.
The island nation is home to about 280,000 people. It is on the Pacific’s “ring of fire”, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.
May 2018 evscuations