More supplies needed as villagers flee Vanuatu volcano

Villagers fleeing a volcanic eruption in Vanuatu face food and water shortages in overcrowded evacuation camps, aid workers and reports said Wednesday.

About 7,000 people on the island of Ambae - in the Pacific archipelago's north - have left their homes after the Manaro Voui volcano rained rocks and ash on their villages.

The volcano sent up a plume of steam and ash over the weekend after weeks of rumbling, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency.

They have also upgraded Manaro Voui to a level four alert, representing a "moderate eruption state", and warned of "flying rocks and volcanic gas" up to 6.5 kilometres (four miles) from its crater.

However, aid workers said a more immediate concern was conditions in the 35 evacuations centres set up outside Ambae's exclusion zone.

The area was already experiencing a dry spell and ash has now blanketed crops and water sources.

Manuel Ure, a disaster coordinator with the local Penama provincial government, said conditions in the camps were difficult.

"We have very limited shelters, we have very limited food and water and other necessities... we are facing a lot of challenges at the moment," he told Radio New Zealand.

Red Cross coordinator Augustine Garae said the continuing influx of people was putting more pressure on the camps.

"The number of evacuees is expected to rise, making facilities at evacuation centres (such) as proper toilets and sanitation not enough for everyone to access," he told the Vanuatu Daily Post.

A boat with supplies and volunteers left the capital Port Vila on Wednesday and more are expected in the coming days.

A New Zealand Air Force plane conducted an observation flight over the volcano on Tuesday, gathering data to help scientists assess the risk of a major eruption.

The volcano, also known as Aoba and Lombenben, has three lakes in its crater and last erupted in late 2005.

On that occasion about 5,000 people were evacuated and it was three months before the volcano settled enough for them to return home.

Thousands evacuated, emergency declared as Vanuatu volcano erupts

A state of emergency has been declared on Ambae in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu after a volcanic eruption forced half of the island's population to be evacuated to nearby villages, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, DPA, has reported.

Authorities are preparing for the eruption to get worse, with the possibility of the entire island being evacuated, Radio New Zealand reported on Tuesday.

The volcano, known as Monaro, at the island's centre, has been rumbling for weeks, but its activity has increased rapidly since the weekend, with eruptions and ashes covering much of Ambae.

Some 5,000 villagers from the island's north and south have been evacuated by Vanuatu's Disaster Management Committee to camps in the east and west.

The country's geohazards department issued a 'level four' alert that could be upgraded.

At the moment, the volcano has blown up ash and dark smoke, with a little bit of lava, according to Manuel Amu, the chairman of the Disaster Management Committee, who was talking to Radio New Zealand.

"Moving people from their communities into an area with very limited houses and very limited resources like food and water [is] really a challenging issue," he said.

According to Radio New Zealand, there is growing fear among those being evacuated as shelter has started to run out and locals have reported louder eruptions.

Amu said the villages are facing major hazards like ash fall and acid rain, as well as the possibility of rocks and volcanic fragments being hurled through the air by eruption activity.

Amu said that up to 3,000 more people are expected to arrive at the temporary shelters, while others have already left the island, added DPA.

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