After a volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand at 14h22 local time today, police believe there are no survivors. Officials earlier confirmed that five people had died and 23 were rescued. The deceased had not been identified at this time. Police estimate about 50 tourists and New Zealanders are unaccounted for and were on or near the island when the eruption started, blasting a cloud of ash thousands of feet into the air.
A statement from New Zealand Police reads:
‘’The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption.
No signs of life have been seen at any point.
Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.
Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.
[We are] working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.’’
White Island eruption was also visible on satellite images. ^AJ pic.twitter.com/Cx4LYHr9Ie
— MetService (@MetService) December 9, 2019
In spite of the extremely dangerous conditions on the island, St John Ambulance had dispatched paramedics on helicopters and The New Zealand Defence Force had also been sent to the area to assist with emergency services.
White Island is uninhabited but tourists regularly visit the island on day tours and a group from the Ovation of the Seas cruise liner where there at the time. Some tour operators removed their guests from the island before it was declared unsafe.
— Donnacha (@donnacha) December 9, 2019
Officials hope to locate those unaccounted for through the passenger list of the cruise ship which many of the island tourists were travelling on.
A spokesperson from Royal Caribbean, who had passengers on an excursion to the island said, “We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today. We do not have any additional details to share at this time.”
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt
— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
The eruption is not expected to have a serious impact on New Zealand’s North Island, which is about 30 miles (50km) west of White Island – also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the incident appeared to be “very significant’’, adding that “A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore.”
According to the GeoNet agency, a moderate volcanic eruption had occurred, throwing smoke and debris about 12,000ft (3,660m) into the air. The alert level was raised to four, on a scale where five would be a major eruption.
Dr Ken Gledhill, technical adviser at GNS Science, said it was “not a particularly big eruption” and was “almost like a throat clearing kind of eruption which is why material won’t make it to the mainland”.
“For volcanic eruptions it’s not large but if you were close it’s not good,” he added.
“It’s shown increased activity over the past few weeks so we raised the alert.
“We can’t be certain there won’t be another eruption in the next 24 hours.”
It is unclear as to why tourists were able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.
A no- fly zone has been established in the area and Police have asked people to avoid areas on North Island which are close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.
White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano and about 70% of the volcano is under the sea. Today’s eruption is the deadliest since 1914.
Featured Image is not of today’s eruption.
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