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Pacific News Minute: Volcano Forces All 11,000 Residents to Evacuate Ambae in Vanuatu


The prime minister of Vanuatu has promised that everyone evacuated from the island of Ambae will return to the island. All 11,000 residents fled as the Monaro volcano threatened to erupt and could face months in makeshift shelters. We have more from Neal Conan in today's Pacific News Minute.

An improvised exodus compared to the evacuation of Dunkirk transferred the entire population of the island over just a few days.

The Guardian Australia reported that the Ambae community in the capital, Port Vila, knew better than to wait for the cash-starved government. They collected stockpiles of food, water and other essentials, then they charted a ship. MV Makila was among the first to arrive at Ambae. It unloaded supplies, took a hundred refugees over to the nearby island of Espitu Santo, turned around and did it again.

Vanuatu's Geohazards Department says the eruption of Manaro has calmed somewhat, but Shadrack Welegtabit, the director of the National Disaster Management office, reminded refugees that the warning level is still at level four. Level five is full blown eruption, so it may be months before people can go home.

While a few hundred Ambaens reached Port Vila, 7,000 or so went to Espiritu Santo, and about three thousand each to Pentecost and Maewo. There are reports that as many as a hundred people refused to leave. 

Government ministers admit that conditions for the refugees are inadequate and appealed for international assistance. Aid is already being provided by New Zealand, Australia, France and by non-governmental organizations.

Natural disaster is nothing new for Vanuatu, whose islands sit atop the Pacific Ring of Fire and there's concern now, as cyclone season is about to begin.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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