New Zealand volcano: Five people confirmed dead

Monday, December 9, 2019

Five people have been confirmed dead in a volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand, police have said.

Although uninhabited, around 50 tourists are believed to have been on or near the island when the eruption began at around 2.11pm local time.

So far, 23 people have been rescued, with a large number transferred to hospital with burn injuries, some severe.

The five people fatally injured were among the 23 evacuees.

Police are hoping to locate people who are unaccounted for via a passenger list from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas, which many of the tourists had come from.

The cruise ship, which had left from Sydney last week, was scheduled to sail to the capital Wellington on Monday night but the company said it would instead remain in the Tauranga port overnight until it learned more on the situation.

The site on White Island is still too dangerous for police and rescuers to search for the missing.

Emergency services attend to an injured person

Michael Schade captured footage of a thick plume of ash and smoke coming from the volcano as he left the island after a morning tour.

He was reportedly at the crater of the volcano just 30 minutes before the eruption.

Describing the eruption, he told the BBC: "We had just got on the boat...then someone pointed it out and we saw it. I was basically just shocked.

"The boat turned back and we grabbed some people that were waiting on the pier."

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000ft into the air.

The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, at first raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption.

It later dropped the alert level back down to three.

New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the focus remained on the search and rescue mission for now and questions about whether tourists should be visiting would be addressed later.

White Island became a private scenic reserve in 1953 and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

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