Five killed, 24 missing as New Zealand island volcano erupts
The terrifying disaster immediately raised questions of why people were allowed to visit the island some 50 kilometres off mainland New Zealand after scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks. White Island is the tip of an undersea volcano.Updated: Dec 10, 2019 05:50 IST
A volcano on a New Zealand island erupted on Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam as tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving perhaps two dozen others missing and presumed dead. Eighteen others were rescued, some of them severely burned.
Police said that the site was still too dangerous hours later for rescuers to search for the missing but that aircraft had seen no signs of life. “Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island,” police said in a statement.
“My god,” Michael Schade tweeted as he posted video of the eruption. “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.”
His video showed a wall of ash and steam around White Island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash. He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.
The terrifying disaster immediately raised questions of why people were allowed to visit the island some 50 kilometres off mainland New Zealand after scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks. White Island is the tip of an undersea volcano.
Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said the number of missing was in the double digits but he couldn’t confirm an exact number. Fewer than 50 people were on the island when the volcano erupted, and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead, he said. Tims said there had been no contact with any of the missing. Most of the 18 who survived were injured, he said.
He said New Zealanders and foreign tourists were among the dead, missing or injured. Some of the visitors were passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. “We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers,” the cruise line said. The ship left Sydney last week and had been scheduled to sail to the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Monday night, but Royal Caribbean said it would instead remain in port on neighboring North Island until more was learned about the situation. The eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 3,660 metres into the air.