SUVA, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- South Pacific island state Vanuatu has launched a large-scale evacuation on its northern island of Ambae as a flotilla of boats rescued islanders from a volcano eruption that has resulted in the pollution of sources of drinking water.
The threat level of the Manaro Voui volcano on Ambae island remains at four, one step away from a full-blown eruption. The Vanuatu government has asked all the 11,000 residents of the Ambae island to leave and most of them are leaving by boat. But the sick, the elderly and people with disabilities are being flown out by chartered flights, according to the website of Vanuatu's Daily Post.
Islanders from at least three evacuation points have boarded ferries, canoes and commercial vessels to take shelter in surrounding islands Maewo, Pentecost and Santo.
About 3,500 evacuees arrived on the island of Espiritu Santo overnight, bringing the total number of evacuees close to 5,000, with up to 4,000 more still to leave Ambae.
Provincial officials said the 19 evacuation centers on the Santo island were already filled to capacity and about 1,000 evacuees have yet to be processed.
The volcanic eruption has polluted many of Vanuatu's water sources, leaving thousands of people in need of safe drinking water, Red Cross delegate Joe Cropp said.
The Manaro Voui volcano, Vanuatu's largest, has been raining rock and ash on villages over the past weeks.
The Vanuatu government has acknowledged it is not well-prepared for a volcanic emergency and has called for international assistance.
Vanuatu lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activities.