Vulkan Vanuatun

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    South Pacific Country Braces for Eruption

    A volcano on Vanuatu’s Ambae island blasted steam, gas and ash Wednesday, forcing thousands to evacuate, and medical teams stood ready in case of a major eruption.

    A “red zone” has been declared around the South Pacific island’s Mount Manaro Volcano, which has been erupting since Nov. 27, and several ships are ready to evacuate islanders if the situation worsens dramatically.

    Lake Vui is located in the crater of Mount Manaro, and TV images showed steam and ash bursting out of the fiercely bubbling surface of the crater lake.

    The biggest danger was a mudflow, or lahar, spewing from Lake Vui and cascading onto villages below, said Esline Garae, Vanuatu’s manager of geology hazards.

    Any eruption of molten volcanic rock or magma “could pour a massive lahar down on the villages” surrounding the mountain, Garae told The Associated Press.

    Two hospitals on the island have been emptied of patients, and teams of doctors and nurses are on call to fly to Ambae from the capital, Port Vila, if a major eruption occurs, the National Disaster Management Office said.

    “Maybe nothing is going to happen, but it is better to be ready than not,” the Daily Post newspaper quoted Prime Minister Ham Lini as saying.

    About 10,000 people live on the small island, one of more than 80 in the archipelago, which is studded with active and dormant volcanoes. The islands, with a total population of 200,000 people, are 1,400 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.

    Officials have moved 5,000 people to safe zones at either end of Ambae.

    A new cone inside the mountain’s crater is believed to be venting up to 2,000 tons of ash a day, as well as dangerous gases.

    “The level of gas flows is very high at the moment,” Garae said, adding that the gas could trigger acid rain.

    If tens of millions of cubic yards of water in the crater lake comes into contact with erupting molten rock, Garae said a massive explosion could occur.

    Vulcanologists from Vanuatu and three from New Zealand are monitoring the seismic activity of the mountain, which they said earlier was trembling constantly.

    Garae said only small quantities of what she called “volcanic bombs,” or rocks, are being tossed out of the mountain, and there was no evidence of any cracking of the crater surrounding the lake.

    Water in the lake — once light blue and now mud-brown — was last reported to be about 500 feet below the rim of the crater.

    Ambae, an hour’s flight northeast from Port Vila, lies near the islands of Pentecost and Maewo, which could be used to help resettle people displaced by a major eruption.

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