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Pacific News Minute: Compulsory Evacuation of Vanuatu’s Ambae Island to Begin This Week


The government of Vanuatu says that evacuation of Ambae Island will begin this week. The compulsory evacuation order was issued late last week as ash from the eruption of the Manaro volcano buried houses, killed crops and polluted water supplies.

“Everywhere we have ashes,” Manson Tari of the National Disaster Management Office told RNZ Pacific. “In our houses, in the offices and there is dust everywhere . . . so it’s very, very bad here at the moment.”

Another Ambae resident, Lillian Garae, told the Associated Press that noise from the volcano makes it hard to sleep, and that the ash if aggravating asthma in small children.

“I want to leave,” she said, “but I don’t know where I’m going to live, so I will stay on Ambae.”

A population of more than ten thousand has been dwindling since the first, temporary evacuation last September. Relocation centers were set up on the nearby island of Maewo to accommodate voluntary evacuees and, after schools on Ambae became unusable, students were moved to Maewo as well. Other Ambaeans have moved on their own, either to the capital, Port Vila, or to Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo.

Some will be reluctant to leave. Smith Guero, chair of the West Ambae Disaster Committee, told RNZ Pacific that while the north, east and south sides of the island may be uninhabitable, the west side is fine. Faced with a compulsory order, he said some villages have chartered ships to evacuate themselves to Santo, so they will not have to depend on the government.

And the wind has carried ash to the north end of Pentacost Island. The Vanuatu Daily Post reports that residents feel the government is neglecting them even though their crops have been smothered, the airport closed and people are getting desperate for water.

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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