Thursday, December 15, 2005

Vanuatu volcano still displays signs of activity

Thousands of tons of ash are continuing to spew from a volcano in Vanuatu, but officials said on Monday the activity on the South Pacific nation was not likely to result in a major deadly eruption.
Some 5 000 people have been evacuated to safer areas on Vanuatu's Ambae island since the crater lake on top of Mount Manaro began erupting with gas, steam and ash on November 27.

There were fears that a major eruption could send a deadly torrent of water, ash and lava down the sides of the volcano, but experts said on Monday the volcanic activity was likely to continue at the same moderate level for one to two weeks before gradually abating.

"The level of activity has remained steady for the last six or seven days," Lucas Merrigan of the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office in Port Vila told AFP.

"It's still at level two. Level three is when we start evacuating people off the island - the scientists don't expect it will get to that."

A spokesperson for aid agency Oxfam said about 2 000 tons of ash were continuing to land on the island daily.

"The information that we've got from the scientists and the vulcanologists on the island is that there's less seismic activity and gas emissions than there used to be... but it could be the calm before the storm," she said.

The eruptions could continue at the same level for another fortnight but were unlikely to become worse, she said.

"They are not predicting a major eruption, they are not predicting that people are going to have to move off the island."

There are fears that ash and acid rain will continue to fall on homes and food crops, leading to the contamination of water supplies and respiratory problems for inhabitants.

The Vanuatu government has not declared a state of emergency but has taken precautions in case the eruptions become worse. Ships are standing by off Ambae in case some of the population of about 10 000 people need to be evacuated.

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