The Pacific nation of Vanuatu is preparing to permanently evacuate the entire population of one of its islands as thick ash spewing from a volcano kills crops, dirties water supplies, and fouls the air. The 10,000 or so people who remain on Ambae island have mixed feelings about the plans. Some who are badly affected by the ash are eager to leave while others are resisting losing their land and culture. The 154-square mile island was temporarily evacuated last September when the eruption cycle began. This time, authorities are planning a permanent move. Government spokesman Hilaire Bule tells the AP he expects the Council of Ministers to approve a relocation plan in which the islanders will be offered residence on two neighboring islands. "It's not an easy decision," he says.
Brad Scott, a New Zealand volcanologist who has been seconded to help Vanuatu authorities, says more than one-quarter of Ambae has been severely impacted, with many traditional thatch roofs collapsing under the weight of the thick ash. He says there is no way of predicting when the next explosive phase will begin. Many people have close family and spiritual ties to the islands where they'll be relocated, Maewo and Pentecost, Bule says. Traditional religion even has it that the islands are part of a family—Pentecost being the mother, Maewo the father, and Ambae the son. Asked if there was a chance that the residents might be able to one day move back to the island, Bule said that was not a question for him. "We don't know," he said. "You'll have to ask the volcano."