6 Oct 2017

Alert level downgraded as Vanuatu volcano stabilises

6:53 pm on 6 October 2017
The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash.

The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

The alert level for Vanuatu's Ambae has been downgraded, with signs the island's volcano is settling.

The order was made to evacuate last week when the alert was raised to level 4 - the second-highest - and the volcano was raining ash across much of the island.

The manager of the Geohazards Department, Esline Garaebiti, said while the volcano was still erupting, it appeared to be stabilising.

She said the alert level has been dropped to level three - what is deemed a "minor eruption."

"It is erupting with less ash at the moment but there are still some explosions," she said. "There'll be de-gassing that will continue for some time, but the level of risk and risk areas is reduced."

Ms Garaebiti said the decision on whether the downgrade means the more than 10,000 people evacuated from Ambae can return will be made by the government.

That may take weeks, as ashfall has killed crops and contaminated water supplies on Ambae.

Relief continues

Meanwhile, international support continued to head to Vanuatu to help the thousands displaced by the volcano.

New Zealand's Defence Force flew in two more tonnes of supplies on Friday, taking the total to more than twelve tonnes.

The supplies include hygiene kits, portable toilets and tarpaulins.

The foreign minister, Gerry Brownlee, said officials would continue to work with the Vanuatu government over the coming days to determine how New Zealand could assist further.

Australia continues to deploy assistance, too, having deployed a number of C-17 flights with supplies and a navy ship, HMAS Choules.

A French plane is being used to ferry supplies between the islands housing evacuees - Santo, Pentecost and Maewo.