Authorities in Vanuatu are evacuating thousands of villagers from homes near a volcano spewing ash and steam on the island of Ambae amid fears of a major eruption, officials said today.
Mount Manaro began tossing out ash and a plume of steam on November 27 and local volcanologist Douglas Charlie today said the volcano “is one of the most dangerous in the world as it’s situated below a lake”.
Lake Vui, which lies in the crater of Mount Manaro, could have its bottom torn open by the trembling mountain, causing “a gigantic explosion” as the water hits hot volcanic magma or rock inside the volcano, Charlie said.
The volcanic lake is being forced up toward the rim, sparking fears of a lahar or mud flow if the lake wall bursts, which could drown the villages that surround the mountain.
Vanuatu Prime Minister Ham Lini has yet to declare a state of emergency on the island, but said he would do so if the situation worsens.
Officials, meanwhile, ordered 5,000 people living in 15 villages in a so-called “red zone” round the mountain to move to the island’s coast.
There, local schools and halls are being used to accommodate displaced villagers as some 2,000 tonnes of ash a day fall round the mountain base and white steam billows 4,500 feet above its cone.
New Zealand volcanologist Steve Sherburn said Mount Manaro “is trembling or vibrating all the time”.
Apart from shaking, “we are not seeing any large quakes associated with the island”, which suggests the trembling is originating from the eruptions in the lake, he said.
“There have been several eruptions on the island in the past and this (event) at the moment seems to be typical of some of the larger eruptions that we’ve had,” Sherburn said.
“It’s significant activity but it’s not (yet) a large eruption,” he added.
He said a party had hiked to the volcano’s rim on Sunday and found the water of Lake Vui about 500 feet below the rim of the mountain.
Three volcanologists from New Zealand have begun detailed monitoring of the shaking volcano.
Charlie said that “the danger is not yet high”, but if the ash falls continue, they will seriously affect water supplies and villagers’ gardens around the volcano’s base.
“If the eruptions worsen the government may have to evacuate all 10,000 people from the island,” he said.
Already two ships have been sent to the island in case an evacuation is required, officials said.
Ambae, an hour’s flight north-east from the capital, Port Vila, lies near the islands of Pentecost and Maewo, which could be used to help resettle people displaced by a major eruption.
Vanuatu, an archipelago of more than 80 islands and 200,000 people, lies 1,400 miles north-east of Sydney, Australia.