WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A rumbling, belching volcano that's threatening to blow had forced more than 7,000 people to flee their homes by Wednesday on an island in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
Authorities have declared an emergency on Ambae island, where activity at the Manaro volcano has increased recently, raising fears of a major eruption. About 10,000 people live on the island, and villagers close to the volcano have been moved to schools and community halls on the island's less vulnerable eastern and western regions.
For those displaced villagers, it's now a waiting game to see whether the volcano erupts or returns to normal activity that's not a threat to them.
Shadrack Welegtabit, the director of Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office, said a ship had arrived Wednesday carrying food, water and other essential supplies. He said a second ship was due to arrive Friday.
New Zealand's military flew over the volcano on Tuesday, and said they noticed huge columns of smoke, ash and volcanic rocks billowing from the crater. Group Captain Nick Olney said they had already planned the aerial survey in an Orion aircraft before the recent activity, but were happy to help provide Vanuatu authorities with images and information.
He said the military "always stands ready to support our Pacific neighbors, especially in times like this."
Vanuatu's Meteorology and Geohazards Department said in an alert that villagers within 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) of the volcano face the biggest risk from airborne rocks and volcanic gas. The department warned that acid rain could damage crops across a broader area.
Vanuatu is about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii. It's made up of 80 islands, about 65 of which are inhabited, and is home to around 280,000 people.
The nation is considered one of the world's most prone to natural disasters, with a half-dozen active volcanoes as well as regular cyclones and earthquakes. It sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.