30 Sep 2017

Vanuatu's mass evacuation swings into action

6:39 pm on 30 September 2017
People being evacuated on Ambae.

People being evacuated on Ambae. Photo: YumiToktok

About 500 people have already evacuated from the Vanuatu island of Ambae, as the island's volcano continues to erupt.

The government's ordered the evacuation of 11,000 people as the volcano - Monaro Voui - smothers the island in ash and acid rain.

The head of the island's provincial government, Georgewin Garae, on Saturday said those who had left had done so on boats or planes they had chartered themselves.

But he said most of the rest were waiting for the government evacuation in evacuation centres, which will start in earnest on Sunday, as ferries start to arrive with food, water and other supplies

"They are inter-island ships which carry upwards of 100 to 150. They will make a number of trips to complete everybody on the island," he said.

NZDF infrared footage of Monaro volcano. The brightest parts of the image are the hottest points.

NZDF infrared footage of Monaro volcano. The brightest parts of the image are the hottest points. Photo: Supplied / NZDF

Mr Garae said the volcano showed no sign of settling down. He said a large series of eruptions on Friday night frightened everyone on the island, and were the largest he'd ever heard.

The head of the province's disaster committee, Manuel Ure, said about 20 flights were scheduled to get people out on Saturday, carrying people to neighbouring islands.

Mr Ure said land had been made available on the nearby islands of Santo, Pentecost, Malekula and Maewo for the evacuees.

Mr Garae said the government had opened up land and had struck a deal with chiefs on neighbouring islands to house the evacuees.

Everyone on the western side of Ambae would go to the country's biggest island, Santo, mostly around the town of Luganville.

People on the east would be split between other islands; Maewo had agreed to take 1,125 evacuees, Pentecost would take more than 1,000, while Malekula would take several hundred, too.

The evacuees would be housed mostly in churches and nakamal meeting houses.

"Accommodation has been confirmed, but then there's a few other things like food and water to be sorted out," said Mr Garae.

Australian assistance.

Australia's government has deployed a navy ship to Vanuatu to help with the evacuation.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said HMAS Choules left on Saturday, and was expected to reach Vanuatu in the middle of next week with specialists, supplies and landing craft on board.

Ms Bishop said a team of Australiam humanitarian and military experts were due in Vanuatu on Saturday.

She said the government also had planes, helicopters, engineering equipment and personnel on standby to help.