Thousands evacuated from Vanuatu island as volcano erupts

SYDNEY (AFP) - Vanuatu has declared a state of emergency and evacuated thousands of residents from an island in the Pacific archipelago after a volcanic eruption rained rocks and ash on nearby homes, reports and officials said Tuesday (Sept 26).

After weeks of rumbling, activity from the Manaro Voui volcano - at the centre of the northern island of Ambae - increased in recent days, the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department said.

The department on Saturday raised the alert level from three to four, which represents a "moderate eruption state", and warned of "flying rocks and volcanic gas" affecting villages up to 6.5km from Manaro Voui.

Villages further afield could also be exposed to ash falls and acid rain, it said.

Schools were shut and more than 7,000 people - 70 per cent of Ambae's population - were being evacuated, Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office's director Shedrack Welegtabit told the Vanuatu Daily Post.

The government has also allocated funds to help the evacuees amid reports of food and water shortages, the Vanuatu Digest added.

The New Zealand Defence Force told Fairfax NZ it was surveying the island Tuesday to determine the risks of a large eruption.

Thousands of people were evacuated when the volcano last erupted in 2005.

Vanuatu, which has an estimated population of more than 270,000, was last ravaged by a natural disaster when Cyclone Pam caused severe damage in early 2015.

The volcano alert is the second in the Asia-Pacific at present. More than 57,000 people have fled a volcano on the Indonesian resort island of Bali amid fears of an imminent eruption.

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