Ambae evacuees face months away from home

The evacuation phase of the exodus from the volcano island of Ambae in Vanuatu is drawing to a close three days ahead of schedule.

More than 11,000 men, women and children have been relocated to three nearby islands: Maewo, Pentecost and the majority - about 7000 - to Espiritu Santo.

The last boatloads of evacuees Ambae were due to land in Espiritu Santo on Wednesday.

Reports from Port Vila are that volcanologists are cautiously optimistic the worst of the Manaro eruption is over, but even if it does calm down the people of Ambae may not be allowed back to their island home for another three months.

The mass exodus from the island - where the volcano Manaro remains one alert level away from a full-blown eruption - almost complete and with two days to spare.

An emotional Chie Ben Beru had just arrived off one of the last boats from Ambae to come in yesterday. He was nursing a scared looking puppy and many Ambaens in the evacuation camps were also very sad to leave their pets and livestock behind.

Local authorities have already shifted their focus to the equally, if not more difficult, task of looking after more than 5200 registered evacuees in 36 evacuation centres in the provincial capital Lugainville.

Making sure people have adequate shelter and enough food and water are the main priorities, but keeping people healthy was an equally important task.

Andy Ilo is the medical superintendent of the provincial hospital and said the hospital was focusing on disease prevention.

"Having an overcrowding evacuation centre and we've had experience in the last Tropical Cyclone Pam with outbreaks of measles, it has brought to our attention of really focusing on preventative issues of health."

"And what we are addressing right now is where they stay, having clean water, having enough number of taps per head, enough toilets.

"As of today we're trying to get buckets and dishes ... and then we're bringin in hygiene kits - about 800 will come in by boat, some on the plane today - and then we can go out and give them."

That plane was a New Zealand Defence Force C130 Hercules which arrived with $250,000 worth of relief supplies yesterday.

Simon Donald, the second secretary of the New Zealand High Commission in Vanuatu, was there to meet the Hercules.

"We are providing 800 tarpaulins, 800 hyg kits, 200 mother and infant kits and five generators and those are direct requests from the government and those will be distributed out to Santo, Pentecost and Maewo."

Flight Lieutenant Liesl Franklin, who flew the Hercules down into the country, said she had seen the volcano.

"Yes, just on arrival into Santo we had a good look into the vicinity of where the volcano was active. It's just a series of volcanic ash clouds that have spread out over a significant area

And that combined with a little bit of low-level cloud means it's actually quite hard to define exactly where that cloud extent begins and ends.

So certainly for us we would stay well away from that area in terms of aviation and being able to fly safely around the volcanic area it was quite hard to make out exactly where that mist was beginning and ending.

"So there was activity absolutely, but the vertical extent of it was not significant so hopefully it remains at that lower level of activity and it can remain safe for those to return home."

Meanwhile, a French Air Force plane has left New Caledonia packed with humanitarian supplies for evacuees on Vanuatu.

The small CASA aircraft will shuttle supplies between the islands hosting evacuees from Ambae - Santo, Pentecost, Maewo, and Malekula.

The French government said its relief would be coordinated with the governments of Australia and New Zealand.