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Smoke emanates from the Manaro Voui volcano located on Vanuatu's northern island Ambae in the South Pacific, in this aerial photo taken on September 26, 2017. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS


By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Vanuatu on Thursday ordered the full evacuation of the South Pacific nation's northern island of Ambae as a volcano there threatened to erupt.

The volcano, known as Manaro Voui, began emitting ash and volcanic gas last weekend, triggering concerns of an imminent eruption and forcing Vanuatu to move more than half of Ambae's population to emergency shelters on the island.

While volcanic activity has not intensified in recent days, Vanuatu's government has ordered the evacuation of all 10,000 residents to the nearby islands of Maewo, Pentecost and Santo amid the threat of an eruption and a strain on water supplies.

"The evacuation of every family out of Ambae is a must," Vanuatu's Council of Ministers said in a statement.

The government hopes to have completely evacuated the island by Oct. 6.

Aid workers said Vanuatu will use government vessels and commercial fishing boats to transfer Ambae's residents.

Although Ambae's volcano has been active since 2005, the government has never previously needed to evacuate the island.

Even if Manaro Voui does not erupt, aid workers fear the spread of volcanic ash across the island will cause long-term harm to locals, who are almost entirely reliant on locally grown produce for food.

Vanuatu is an economically developing nation of more than 80 islands and home to 260,000 people. It sits on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and its Tana island active volcano is a major tourist attraction.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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