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No Evacuation for Ash-Covered Isle

June 13, 2001

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (AP) _ Hundreds of villagers whose water supplies were contaminated and ground crops destroyed when a nearby volcano erupted will not be evacuated from their ash-covered island, a Vanuatu government spokesman said Wednesday.

The eruption on Friday contaminated all water supplies and food crops on Palma Island, leaving villagers to live on fish and wild yams roasted over open fires and dependent on bottled water being delivered by boats.

Fresh water supplies were being sent to the island while government agencies test the spring water on the island, Philp Karie, deputy director of the National Disaster Management Office said.

``There will be no evacuation at this stage. We are keeping the villagers on Palma (Island),″ Karie said.

The eruption on the uninhabited island of Lopeivi tossed thousands of tons of ash and sulfur into the air. Several inches of ash blanketed Palma, home to 2,000 villagers, while a second island, Ambryn, was lightly coated in the fallout, a government spokesman said.

``The Health Department is testing spring water on Palma, and we’re waiting for the results,″ to see whether the springs were clearing the contamination, Karie said. Results were expected in two days, he said.

Government spokesman Barton Bisiwei said hundreds of people on Palma were suffering throat, chest and lung problems from breathing the ash and sulfur fumes of the ongoing eruption.

``This ash fallout is (now) light, but it’s bringing sore throats and coughing to Palma and Ambryn,″ he said.

With ground crops destroyed, agriculture officials were assessing how long food supplies on the islands would last.

``We’re checking what food is available and checking whether villagers can use any of the food which has been affected by the ash,″ Bisiwei said.

Volcanic activity is common in the Republic of Vanuatu, a chain of 80 islands in the South Pacific, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Australia.

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