Vanuatu grappling with huge number of evacuees


Vanuatu disaster authorities are grappling with how they will look after the thousands of people made homeless by the eruption on Ambae if the volcano's activity doesn't die down.

Dozens of evacuation centres are now up and running for the 11000 evacuees but a more permanent solution may need to be found.

Koroi Hawkins reports from Santo.


After a slow start authorities in Vanuatu are finally getting on top of managing the dozens of evacuation centres hosting thousands of evacuees from Ambae.

This has been achieved through the assistance of New Zealand, Australia and France and local and international NGOs as well as through the widespread support of local host communities and individuals.

But the Red Cross's Shirley Johnson said many challenges remain

"The challenge that we have here is that most of them have health issues, and really need a lot of hygienic kits, we need soaps, we need mattresses, we need blankets to keep the elderly warm, and we need adult diapers and all this to look after this most vulnerable group."

The other group of people needing more help are the more than 3000 evacuees on the outer islands of Pentecost and Maewo.

The National Disaster Management Office's Noel Stevens acknowledged this on Wednesday just before the French flew the first proper assessments teams out to one of the islands.

"There's a plan to deploy some people from Sanma province to Maewo and Pentecost just to assess the situation there, and report back to provincial officials in Sanma province."

But even though they're still working out the immediate challenges Mr Stevens said the government was already considering what to do further ahead.

The most optimistic scenario is that the volcanic activity drops to a safe enough level to allow Ambae communities to return home.

But the leaders of some communities on Ambae particularly those living near Manaro Voui are afraid to return.

One - Sandy Banga - said this is the second time in a decade the erupting volcano has forced people to leave the island and he thinks it unwise to tempt fate a third time.

"Many people are afraid because it is the first time for them to see the volcano's fire. So we have already discussed it and our leaders are going to try and negotiate for us to acquire some land in this place so we can come and settle in Santo. Because our village is close to it we have been very badly affected by volcanic ash and it is not just by this incident in the future it could erupt again."

Government officers returning from Ambae Island say the place was eerily empty and a ghost island.

Some of the more superstitious said in the night they could hear children crying and footsteps without people.

They say pets and livestock roam the island freely and the volcano let off a massive boom just on Wednesday that could be heard all over the island.

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