27 Nov 2018

Ambae evacuees wait for permission to return

3:06 pm on 27 November 2018

The state of emergency on Vanuatu's Ambae island has been lifted but it is not clear when displaced residents will be able to return.

About 10,000 Ambaeans were evacuated from the island about four months ago due to volcanic activity and have been living on neighbouring islands, including Santo and Maewo.

People awaiting to be evacuated

People being evacuated from Ambae in September 2017. Photo: YumiToktok

RNZ Pacific understands the Vanuatu Council of Ministers will meet today to decide whether to send Ambaeans back to the island.

RNZ Pacific's correspondent in Vanuatu, Len Garae, confirmed the government's state of emergency had ended, but he said the island might still not be safe for occupation.

"It doesn't mean that people are going home to the island of Ambae today," Mr Garae said.

"What the government has said is that after today, the government will do everything possible to make sure the situation on Ambae island is safe enough to enable people to return."

In order for Ambaens to return the government would have to provide transportation, Mr Garae said.

The Manaro volcano on Ambae remains at alert level two, which means an eruption is possible.

"There are reports that recent eruptions [from Manaro] have allowed ashes to fall on the island of Maewo. And if that's the case, Ambae may have been affected again," Mr Garae said.

"But in recent weeks reports coming from the island were all positive - that the island has become green again."

Mr Garae said the government had asked Ambaeans to make sure their second homes on Santo and Maewo were set up before they go back to Ambae, in case they have to evacuate again.

"They wouldn't want to repeat the same situation as last time when they went home. They were sent back to Ambae only to be evacuated again. I'm sure the government has learned from that."

The erupting Manaro volcano forced the government to order the evacuation of Ambae in September 2017.

The state of emergency was lifted at the end of October 2017 and residents returned to the island.

In March 2018, the volcano began erupting again prompting a voluntary evacuation which became compulsory at the end of July.

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