SYDNEY - A volcano threatening to erupt in the South Pacific has led to the evacuation of an entire island in Vanuatu. A state of emergency has been declared on the island of Ambae, where an increase in volcanic activity has raised fears of a major eruption.
Ash, stones and lava have been thrown from the mouth of the Monaro volcano in Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. Officials have ordered the entire population of 10,000 to leave their homes on the island of Ambae. Many have left for evacuation shelters in coastal areas.
Authorities have warned that villagers living within about 6 kilometers of the volcano are at risk from from airborne rocks and dangerous gases. There is a warning, too, that acid rain could damage crops.
The New Zealand air force has flown over the area to assess the risk.
Group Captain Nick Olney says the situation is volatile.
“Ambae was very active. There was ash clouds, the crater was erupting plumes, lava, smoke, ash," said Olney. "The evacuation of people is quite critical at the moment but there was some good imagery, what we would call hand-held imagery; normal photographs as well as infrared stuff, which the scientists will use.”
Australia has responded to the emergency by delivering supplies of food, water and shelter.
It is more than a decade since the volcano on the island of Ambae last erupted.
Vanuatu sits on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire. It is considered one of the world's most prone countries to natural disasters, with half a dozen active volcanoes, as well as regular earthquakes and cyclones.
Another volcano, this one on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, is also rumbling. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes as authorities warn it could erupt.
The area around Mount Agung has felt hundreds of tremors and other volcanic activity in recent days.