Quake-rattled Vanuatu Red Cross prepares for possible volcanic eruption

News and Press Release
Originally published
by Rohan Kay in Bangkok
Peter Tamara dropped his phone and ran out of the building when an earthquake measuring what he later guessed was "five to six" on the Richter scale jolted his office in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, on January 15. More than 400 tremors have hit the south Pacific nation since January 3, when a 7.2-scale earthquake rocked the city's residents, causing widespread damage to infrastructure but claiming no casualties or serious injuries.

Similar quakes shake Port Vila every day, says Mr Tamara, acting CEO and disaster response coordinator with the Vanuatu Red Cross.

This is Day 13 of an earthquake response effort by the Vanuatu Red Cross that has included medically treating and sheltering Port Vila residents panic stricken over the thought of a quake-induced tsunami.

The earthquake that piled into Port Vila at 4.30am on January 3 from under the Pacific Ocean, damaged city buildings and bridges and triggered landslides that filled in Port Vila wharf with boulders, cutting off all seaborne access.

Mr Tamara spent the first few days after the quake coordinating a relief team of 11 Red Cross volunteers as they combed the hills above Port Vila to treat the 200 of 500 residents who had fled their homes in fear of a tsunami for injuries and shock. The Tsunami thankfully failed to materialise. Now he is preparing an evacuation plan for a possible volcanic eruption in the south of the country. A Red Cross team will leave Port Vila on January 17th for Tanna island to assess if there are adequate relief supplies should the evacuation of people living near an active volcano there be necessary.

Mr Tamara said up to 500 people living near Yasur volcano will have to be evacuated if an eruption occurs. Ash has rained down on the island's population, polluting water sources, since January 5.

The Vanuatu government last week restricted access to the volcano's crater citing increased risk of an eruption since the earthquake on January 3. With no let up in tremors and ash falls in sight, the five staff members and 30 volunteers of the Vanuatu Red Cross remain on high alert.