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No signs of life after New Zealand volcanic eruption

By Katrina Hapner, contributing writer for Telegraph Local

When the volcano on White Island (Whakaari) in New Zealand erupted, there were approximately 47 people occupying the island.  These 47 people were comprised of citizens of the United States, Australia, China, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.  Of those citizens, eight are still listed as missing and at least six are confirmed dead. 

Most people injured in the massive volcanic eruption have extensive burns to skin and lungs.   Throughout the country, burn units are at capacity, according to Pete Watson of the Ministry of Health.  Twenty-seven out of the 31 people were admitted to hospital with more than 30% of their total body burned as well as burns to their respiratory system requiring help to breathe.  The severity of these injuries means that some will not survive and total dead could rise.

The volcano erupted Monday afternoon while tourists and guides, many from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, were touring the crater right before it blew.  On Tuesday, authorities stated that there were “no signs of life” according to numerous surveillance flights around the island.  The volcano is still active and could erupt again within 24 hours. Questions have arose regarding who is responsible for allowing visitors on an active volcano.  There has been much frustration from family members with regards to availability of information on the status of their loved ones.

The chairman of White Island Tours, Paul Quinn, made a statement that tours of the island were undertaken well within their company guidelines.  He also stated that earlier that morning of the eruption, they had no indication anything was wrong, and that volcanic activity was said to be level 2 on a scale with 5 being the biggest threat. Though, New Zealand exists in very tectonically volatile region, scientists say that this was a very small, but dangerous eruption.  Authorities on Tuesday warned that ash remains a dangerous threat in the vicinity of the island. 

There were several watercraft near the island when it erupted, and several stepped up to try to help evacuate survivors off the island.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister Ardern made a statement that while search and rescue were of course their priority, there would be investigations in coming weeks regarding the culpability of so many injured. On Tuesday she also commended those people who tried to help the victims, “Those who undertook a risky effort in the immediate aftermath did so in an incredibly courageous way,” she said.

The White Island volcano is known as one of the world’s “most accessible active volcanoes” according to White Island Tours.  More than 10,000 people tour the island annually according to GeoNet.

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