New Zealand volcano: police say no more survivors expected on White Island
Questions raised over why tourists were allowed to visit volcano after signs of unrest
Police in New Zealand have said they do not expect to find any more survivors after the volcanic eruption on White Island.
Six people have been confirmed dead, while eight others are feared to have died and more than 30 have suffered serious burns.
Tourists were seen walking inside the rim of the White Island crater just moments before the eruption, which occurred at 2.11pm local time on Sunday (1.11am GMT on Monday).
Most of the victims are from Australia and New Zealand, but tourists from the UK, the US, Germany, China and Malaysia have also been affected. Of the 47 people on the island, 38 were from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
Footage showed huge plumes of smoke blasting more than 3,500 metres into the sky. Police said it was unlikely that anyone left on the island had survived and officials fear that there could be another eruption in the next 24 hours.
The New Zealand Herald says the burns unit at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland “has received the equivalent of a year’s worth of work in one day”.
Speaking in parliament, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The scale of this tragedy is devastating. To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated.”
White Island, also known as Whakaari, is off the coast of North Island and is one of the country's most active volcanoes. Despite that, the island has frequent day tours and scenic flights available for visitors, reports the BBC.
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One eye witness wrote on Twitter: “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, [and] were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”
The same person added: “We had just got on the boat and left and we were sitting on it for around 10 minutes eating lunch, it was driving away very slowly because we were all eating. Then someone pointed it out and we saw it. I was basically just shocked. The boat turned back and we grabbed some people that were waiting on the pier.”
Allessandro Kauffmann, a Brazilian tourist, said his group left the island “just in time”, adding that some victims suffered “extensive burns on their bodies”.
Last week, the geological hazard monitoring website GeoNet warned “the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal”. Professor Richard Arculus, a volcanologist from the Australian National University, said White Island had been “showing signs of unrest for the past few weeks”.
Police have corrected an earlier statement suggesting a criminal investigation had been launched into why tour groups were allowed into the volcano zone, saying it was “too early to confirm” whether there would be a criminal inquiry as well as a wider health and safety one.
The volcano last erupted in 2016, according to GeoNet, in a “short-lived” burst that happened in the evening and did not injure anyone.