Ashes covered: New Zealand in mourning after the eruption of the volcano
The official death toll is still five, but authorities said there was no chance of finding the eight missing on the White Island alive. Police have launched a criminal investigation, and many of the injured - most of them tourists - suffer from severe burns. "The extent of this tragedy is devastating"
Ashes covered: New Zealand in mourning after the eruption of the volcanoPhoto: Reuters, edited by Asaf Drury
New Zealand police said on Tuesday it had launched a criminal investigation into the volcano eruption yesterday, in which at least five people perished along with eight other people who are still missing and are apparently not alive. More than 30 others were injured.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the tour flights did not detect signs of life on the White Island, while eyewitnesses described the horrific burns of survivors, most of them tourists. "The extent of this tragedy is devastating," Ardern said in parliament. "Those who have lost or are missing family and friends - we are in sorrow and mourning and we are devastated."
47 people were on the White Island at the time of the volcanic eruption - 24 tourists from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China and the UK and one from Malaysia. Police Deputy Superintendent John Timms said that, to the best of his understanding, there was no chance of finding survivors on the island. Police said there were bodies left on the island, covered in ash.
Of those injured, at least 27 of them suffer burns of more than 71 percent in their bodies, and some may die from their wounds, he said. Peter Watson, the government's most senior public health official, said the burn treatment departments are full.
There may be another outbreak. Smoke and ash from the volcano yesterday (Photo: AP)
Volcano eruption on White Island, New Zealand, December 9, 2019 (Photo: AP)
A New Zealand Geological Hazards Agency camera, perched in the muzzle of a volcano, showed one group moving away from the ring within the muzzle, just before the eruption. Other images documented the blast that fired into 3,658 meters of ash air.
"It is clear now that there were two groups on the island - the ones that managed to evacuate and the ones that were close to the eruption," Ardern said at a news conference this morning in Waqatan, a town on the east coast of the island, about 50 miles from the White Island.
Later, in Parliament, she paid tribute to the four rescue helicopters that landed on White Island after the volcano eruption. "In their immediate efforts to evacuate people from the island, the pilots made a courageous decision under extremely dangerous circumstances," Ardern said. "I think their own safety was the last thing they had in mind."
The rescue teams have not been able to reach Ash's island since then. The Geological Sciences Agency has warned that there is a 50% chance of another eruption in the coming day, as the volcano continued to emit "steam and mud".More in Walla! NEWS More in Walla! NEWS
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Rescue teams cannot reach the island (Photo: Reuters)
New Zealand volcano eruption December 9, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group managed to leave the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped evacuate critically injured survivors into the boat. Hopkins, 50, who went on a tour in honor of his birthday, said many of the survivors wanted to go to the sea to escape the outbreak. "They were burned so hard," he told the New Zealand Herald. "People were in shorts and shorts, so their skin was bare."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians were likely among the dead, and 13 more civilians were injured. "I'm afraid there will be worse news," he said.
New Zealand's High Commissioner Laura Clark confirmed on Twitter that two British women were among the injured.
Russell Clark, a paramedic who was in one of the sucks, said the sights were spectacular at first. "Everything was just covered in ashes," he told Reuters. "It was a pretty overwhelming feeling."
A disaster is known in advance
Wakari, as it is known in New Zealand's native Maori language, is the most active volcano in the country, created by continuous volcanic activity in the last 150,000 years. About 70% of the island is underwater, making its structure the largest in New Zealand.
Ray Cass, emeritus professor at Monash University, said "the disaster has been in the throes for many years."
"After visiting him twice, I always felt it was too dangerous to allow groups to tour the uninhabited island volcano daily by boats and helicopters," Cass said in comments from the Australian Science Center.
GeoNet raised its alarm against an outbreak in the mountain last month as a result of increased volcanic activity. His last deadly outbreak was in 1914, when 12 reactors perished. It erupted for a short time in April 2016, and every year more than ten thousand people visit a privately owned island.
The Royal Caribbean Company confirmed yesterday that some passengers on a 16-deck ship were taking a day trip on the island, but it did not provide any additional information.
Evacuation of the injured from the volcano, yesterday (Photo: Reuters)
A man is injured in a volcano eruption on White Island, New Zealand, December 9, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
Janet Ori, a 61-year-old sister from Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, and his wife, Janet, 32, were on a trip with the ship as part of their honeymoon. They were injured in an outbreak.
"The phone rang at midnight. I heard a voice message. It was my son. He said 'Mama, this is not a joke. The volcano erupted while we were on the island. We are in a hospital with severe burns."
The mother said she was frustrated by the lack of information provided by the shipping company and authorities. "I didn't hear a word from the company," she said.