Vanuatu orders evacuation of entire island with rumbling volcano

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Vanuatu officials on Thursday ordered the complete evacuation of an island in the Pacific archipelago where a rumbling, belching volcano is threatening to blow.

Boats were soon to begin ferrying residents off Ambae island, which is home to about 11,000 people, in a process expected to take about a week. The Manaro volcano has been increasingly active for a week or more, raising fears of a major eruption.

Government spokesman Hilaire Bule said ministers decided they couldn’t risk people’s lives and so ordered the compulsory evacuation. Previously, people had been evacuated to other areas on the island itself.

Ambae resident Lilian Garae said she could see “smoke coming out from the hills” and hear regular booming noises from the volcano. She said she was waiting to hear when she might have to leave her home and where she might be sent.

Ambae is about 400 square kilometers (154 square miles), making it a little larger than the city of Detroit. It is one of about 65 inhabited islands in the Pacific nation about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.

The activity measure of the volcano was raised last weekend to Level 4, on a scale in which Level 5 represents a major eruption, and an emergency was declared Monday.

New Zealand’s military flew a plane over the volcano on Tuesday, and said huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks were billowing from the crater.

Some residents have left the island voluntarily. For them, it’s a waiting game to see whether the volcano erupts or returns to normal activity that’s not a threat. Officials say they have no real way of predicting what the volcano will do next and that evacuees will just have to wait it out.

Bule said the evacuation will be carried out by boat and continue through Oct. 6. He said residents will be moved onto nearby islands. Officials are setting up two sites on…

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