13 feared dead, 50% chance of further eruption in 24 hours

Five people are dead, eight are missing and feared dead and 31 are injured after yesterday's double eruption on White Island/Whakaari.

Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed that people from seven countries had been affected by the eruption.

In the House, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those injured or missing included those from Australia, the US, UK, China, Germany, Malaysia as well as New Zealand.

Peters said the Government was writing to the countries of those impacted by the eruption “as we speak”.

As Parliament sat on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke of the disaster in the House.

“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” she said.

She said no signs of life had been detected despite a number of air sweeps over the island.

Ardern paid tributes to chopper pilots who had landed on the island shortly after the explosion.

“Those pilots made an incredibly brave decision under extremely dangerous circumstances.”

“I’m sure all of this house would wish to pay tribute to them."

Some of the injured have burns to 90% of their bodies and a source said they may not survive the horrific injuries.

In a media briefing this morning police said there were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruptions.

Police said there had been no further deaths since yesterday.

In an update late this morning, GNS Science estimated there was a 50% chance smaller or similar sized eruption to yesterday's that would impact the main crater floor.

"There is a high level of uncertainty associated with this estimate.

"We also estimate the least likely scenario is a larger eruption.

"There is an extremely low likelihood of any ash impact to the mainland, but gas may be smelt depending on the prevailing wind direction.Our monitoring equipment is operating and we continue to closely monitor the situation on the island.

"We will be attempting to collect additional airborne gas (CO2 and SO2) data later this afternoon to aid in future prognosis of the volcano."

The volcanic alert level remained at Level 3. The aviation colour code remained at Orange. GNS Science and the National Geohazards Monitoring Centre continues to closely monitor Whakaari/White Island for further signals.

Police said in a statement this afternoon work was continuing today to "enable the recovery of the eight people who remain unaccounted for".

"Recovering the remaining victims and returning them to their loved ones is an absolute priority for NZ Police. 

"Police are working closely with experts from GNS Science to get an understanding of the current environment on Whakaari / White Island and the likelihood of any further volcanic activity, as well as any risks posed to recovery teams by gases in the atmosphere.

"This is a heartbreaking situation for all involved and we are working to provide every support possible to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in the eruption."

Information regarding the nationalities of those killed and injured in the eruption, as well as condition updates for those injured in the eruption, would be released at the earliest opportunity. 

Meanwhile it is understood that Victim Support workers spent time with first responders last night.

Some of the emergency services personnel were said to be traumatised by what they had seen and heard during the initial White Island rescue and response.

Speaking at the briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said victims were being treated at hospital burns units around the country. Police said the casualties were being treated at seven hospitals. Three patients had been treated and discharged from Whakatane Hospital.

There were two groups on the island - one was able to be evacuated but another was close to the crater.

She said there have been no signs of life on the island after aerial reconnaissance overnight.

Addressing victims' families, Ms Ardern said: "We share in your unfathomable grief in this moment and time." 
White Island tour operators carry out a rescue operation on the island. Photo: Michael Schade
White Island tour operators carry out a rescue operation on the island. Photo: Michael Schade

"For now, our duty is to return loved ones."

In a statement issued just after midnight police said it was believed anyone left on the island did not survive.

"The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption," police said in the statement.

"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."

Massive plumes of smoke from Whakaari/White Island. Photo / via zurraspismo on Twitter
Massive plumes of smoke from Whakaari/White Island. Photo / via zurraspismo on Twitter

In the statement issued at 12.12am police said they were working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already, the statement said.

"As part of the recovery a NZDF ship will approach the perimeter of the island at first light to deploy drones and observational equipment to further assess the environment.

"Police continue to receive information and advice from GeoNet experts to support the recovery operation.

"The Police Disaster Identification (DVI) team are assembling in Whakatane to await deployment.

"Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

"The Police 105 number can be used by members of the public to submit information regarding friends or family who might have been visiting White Island during the eruption.

"People from overseas can call +64 9105 105.

"They can also use the online form at the Police website.

"At the request of New Zealand Police, New Zealand Red Cross has activated the Family Links website for people wanting to register themselves as safe or register an inquiry about a loved one.

"If you are worried about a friend or family member following the White Island eruption, first contact them as you normally would.

"If you cannot make contact, you can register them through this website: https://familylinks.icrc.org/new-zealand/en/Pages/Home.aspx

"The friends and family of those involved remain at front of mind for Police.

"Support is being put in place and Police are working to provide them with information as it becomes available.



This is what can happen when Tour companies choose to not heed warnings
issued by the authorities concerned.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter