Is Bali Hai About to Burst?

Anyone who has seen the movie South Pacific will be remember Bali Hai, the forbidden island visited by an American lieutenant in search of love. James Michener created the story during WW II after being intrigued by the silhouette of Ambae Island, visible from his base on Santo in what is now Vanuatu.

Well, this year of extraordinary natural events may close with the biggest bang of all. Scientists monitoring Lombenden Volcano in the center of Ambae report that it began erupting a week ago, with smoke visible from nearby islands. The most immediate concern is the fate of the volcano's two crater lakes, "the eyes of the mountain." Manaro Lakua is dammed by the edge of the caldera, while Lake Vui is two kilometers in diameter. It's feared that if magma from the erupting volcano reaches the lake water, there will be a tremendous explosion which will send vast quantities of water, ash, and mud crashing down to the coast.

The local authorities have implemented an evacuation plan developed after a near eruption in 1995, and hundreds of villagers living directly below the volcano are being moved to areas not threatened by the slides. A couple of years ago I hiked along Ambae's narrow north coast, and I could see then how there would be no escape if something like this happened suddenly. Today's Pacific Islands Report has a story about Ambae.

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