New Zealand volcano: Five dead and eight missing with ‘no signs of life’

Source BBC

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has said there were no signs of life on White Island following a volcanic eruption.

She said the focus was now “on recovery” and “to return loved ones”, once the island was safe.

Thirteen people are presumed to have died, five of those are confirmed dead and eight are still missing on the island.

The volcano erupted on Monday as tourists were visiting the popular attraction.

Thirty-four people survived, with 31 still receiving treatment in hospital.

Among those hit by the eruption are people from New Zealand, Australia, China, Malaysia, the US and the UK, Ms Ardern said in a press conference on Tuesday.

“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment at time and in your sorrow,” Ms Ardern said.

Ash covered White IslandReconnaissance flights were able to reach White Island on Tuesday morning

She said reconnaissance flights landed on the island but saw no signs of life.

“The helicopter pilot, as I understand, physically moved around the island rather than just an aerial survey and did so for some time and so brought back that report that unfortunately there were no signs of life.”

Who was on the island?

Visitors from several countries as well as locals are among the missing and injured.

Police said a total of 47 people had been on the island when the disaster happened on Monday afternoon local time.

The first victim to be identified is tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, a local of nearby town Whakatane, who according to New Zealand media has been named by his brother on Facebook.

Another tour guide from New Zealand, 24-year old Tipene Maangi, is among the missing with his family telling media he had been called in on his day off.

Two British women were among those receiving treatment, said the UK High Commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke.

White Island volcanoThere was still smoke above White Island on Tuesday morning

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he “feared” three of the five confirmed dead were Australian.

Mr Morrison said that 24 Australians were on board a cruise ship exploring the island in the Bay of Plenty when the volcano erupted. Of those, 13 people had been hospitalised and 11 were unaccounted for, he said.

“This is a terrible tragedy, a time of great innocence and joy interrupted by the horror of that eruption,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Ms Ardern acknowledged the apparently high number of Australian victims.

“Can I say to our Australian family, there are no two countries closer and we are devastated at what has happened here and particularly want to acknowledge those from Australia who have been caught up in this horrific, horrific incident,” she said.

White Island

A web page has been set up by the New Zealand Red Cross for families to register missing loved ones.

What happened at the volcano?

White Island, also called Whakaari, is the country’s most active volcano. Despite that, the privately owned island is a tourist destination with frequent day tours and scenic flights available.

The volcano erupted in two explosions in quick succession at around 14:11 (01:11 GMT) on Monday, sending up a thick plume of ash and smoke.

A live feed from the volcano showed several visitors inside the crater before the stream went dark.

According to Ms Ardern, there were two groups on the island at the time, “those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption”.

Stills from a live feed show the crater minutes before the eruption
A group of visitors (circled) could be seen inside the crater before images went dark

Some survivors were rescued by boat in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, but police said it was too dangerous to mount a rescue operation.

But later private helicopter rescue missions picked up several people from the island.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Ardern paid tribute to helicopter crews who had flown to the island on Monday to bring people out despite the dangers.

“I want to acknowledge the courageous decision made by first responders and those pilots who in their immediate rescue efforts made an incredibly brave decision under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in an attempt to get people out,” she said.

Since then, emergency services have been unable to search the area because of dangerous conditions, with plumes of smoke and ash continuing to rise above the volcano on Tuesday.

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