SYDNEY - An erupting volcano is expected to force the population of an entire island in Vanuatu to leave for the second time in less than a year. Volcanic activity has intensified in the past week, prompting the government of the South Pacific archipelago to declare a state of emergency.
Ash clouds have turned day into night on the island of Ambae, leading authorities in Vanuatu to order the evacuation of 11,000 people. The Manaro volcano has been active for almost a year, and after a period of relative calm, it is beginning to stir again.
The director of Vanuatu's Geohazards Department is Esline Garaebiti.
"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."
Grey ash has blanketed homes and crops, and emergency officials in Vanuatu are expecting the seismic activity to intensify.
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.
"At this stage it's very clear that the situation will only get worse in the days to come, and so it's important for the people to move out of the island. And we will be asking their co-operation to co-operate with us so that we can get them to safety," said Napuat.
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.