Eight missing after New Zealand volcano eruption

Books Tuesday 10/December/2019 14:45 PM
By: Times News Service
Eight missing after New Zealand volcano eruption

Eight people are still missing and presumed dead, a day after a volcanic eruption shook New Zealand's White Island, police said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would investigate the incident. She told a press conference that aerial reconnaissance flights overnight hadn't found any survivors.

Unstable conditions on the island were hampering rescue efforts and authorities were assessing whether to send a recovery mission to remove bodies.

"We share in your unfathomable grief in this moment at time," Ardern told victims' families. "The focus this morning is on recovery and ensuring police can do that safely."

Recovery mission

A total of 47 people were on the island when the volcano erupted on Monday afternoon, sending plumes of ash thousands of meters into the air. Police said 31 people were in hospital, while three others were discharged after receiving treatment.

The government said 27 of the 31 injured suffered greater than 71% body surface burns and that it's possible not all would survive.

Among the injured and missing were people from Australia, the US, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia, as well as New Zealand.

Separately, police announced it was too soon to say if they would open a criminal investigation into the deaths of tourists on the island.

Popular tourist attraction

White Island, known as Whakaari in the Maori language, is the peak of an active submarine volcano that lies some 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the coast of New Zealand's North Island. It draws around 10,000 visitors each year.

Volcano-monitoring agency GeoNet raised the alert level for White Island last month after detecting an increase in volcanic activity. Ardern said any questions about whether tourists should be visiting the area would be addressed once search and rescue efforts were concluded.

White Island is New Zealand's most active cone volcano. It last erupted in 2016, without causing injuries. The last fatal eruption was in 1914, when 12 people were killed.