Kiwi caught up in Vanuatu evacuations

A New Zealand woman, who lives semi-permanently on the Vanuatu Island where thousands are being forced from their homes amid a volcanic eruption, says it could take years for the land to recover. 

Tash Kimlin says debris from the Manaro volcano has killed off plant life and rainwater towers have been contaminated. 

On the island of Ambae, evacuees arrive at the shoreline in their hundreds. 

Both the young and old wait with their belongings to board ships, not knowing when or if they'll be able to return home. 

"Big, big disaster affecting the island of Ambae," says Vanuatu Red Cross Volunteer Roland Ale. "So we really must move out to another island." 

The eruption is behind the mass exodus of the island's entire population of 11,000. 

The Manaro volcano has been belching ash and smoke into the air for six days, killing off vegetation. 

"There is acid rain falling in quite heavy concentrations, killing all growth up there," says Vanuatu Daily Post Media Director Dan McGarry.

"It looks like devastation up there - like a wasteland."

Ambae is about 260km from the capital Port Vila and most residents there are being shipped to Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo. 

The surrounding islands of Maewo, Pentecost and Malekula are also taking evacuees. Some have made it to the capital. 

Ms Kimlin of Wellington has been living and working on Ambae as an aid worker for the past six years, and chartered two planes to get 22 people from their village to safety. 

"So it's a very nerve-wracking time for all of them, and a very emotional time to walk away from their homes and their community and everything they know," she says.

Residents there are totally dependent on livestock and their gardens. 

"It's going to affect crops," Mr Kimlin adds. "We don't have any water source, other than rain on the island, so all of the water is now contaminated.

"From what I saw on the west, it will take years to recover from what's already happened."

The Tari family also just made it out - the youngest is a four-month-old baby boy. 

"I'm feeling so sad, because I'm losing my island with other families, so I am so sad that I'm not on my island now," says resident Keith Tari.

Now they're internally displaced in their own country, they don't know when they'll be able to return. 

"The biggest challenge for a volcanologist is picking the end of an eruption," says GNS Science Volcanologist Brad Scott.

"There's no magic glass ball to look into or anything. At this time, it looks like the eruption could continue for some time."