Geohazards Unit director Esline Garaebiti has advised Ambae islanders to ‘stay by the radio’ following a multi-sectoral assessment team visit to the island, where the Lombenben volcano has been upgraded to Level 4, which puts it in a state of moderate eruption.

Ms Garaebiti told the Daily Post, “I’m from Ambae myself, so I know how everyone is feeling. There’s no need to panic, but you do need to be aware. Volcanoes are impossible to predict. People need to stay by the radio. It’s the best way for us to get information to you in the shortest time.”

The volcano is being monitored by two remote sensing stations located near the caldera. These installations take photographs, measure vibrations under the ground, and test the atmosphere for debris, ash and poison gases.

Data from the stations are transmitted in real time to the Geohazards unit, located upstairs from the National Disaster Management Office. It is staffed 24/7, and the data is shared with an international network of scientific experts via the internet. During yesterday’s visit, Ms Garaebiti briefed disaster response stakeholders in the communities of Walaha and Saratamata, and advised those affected not to panic. There is cause for concern, she said, but people should not be too disconcerted.

She likened the current level of activity to Tanna’s Yasur volcano, which also features an open lava lake, loud explosions and large amounts of smoke. These signs, she said are normal for a volcano in this state, and should not be taken as signs of an imminent massive eruption.

That said, she noted that she and her staff had not seen this level of activity in many years. The volcano recently raised a new cinder cone, and inside that cone, a lava lake had formed. To her knowledge this is the first time in recent memory that the volcano had exposed a magma chamber to the atmosphere.

Lombenben’s cinder cone is surrounded by a freshwater lake. It’s feared that if there is a large incursion of water into the lava lake, or a large expulsion of lava, this could create a sudden and powerful explosion.

A six kilometre compulsory exclusion has been declared. Inside this area, there is a high risk of volcanic explosions and ejections, of invisible concentrations of poison gas, and fast moving ash clouds, known as pyroclastic flows.

Climate Change Minister Ham Lini, who is responsible for the National Disaster Management Office, accompanied the assessment team yesterday. The team included NDMO officials, police personnel and members of the Geohazards Unit.

Mr Lini said that his fellow Pentecost islanders could see the glow from the volcano at night. He and NDMO Director Shadrach Welegtabit will be briefing the Council of Ministers tomorrow morning, but would not comment on what he proposed to tell them.

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