9 December 2019
Five people have been killed and many more are missing after a volcanic island in New Zealand erupted in a tower of ash and steam while dozens of tourists were visiting.
White Island, also called Whakaari, was still too dangerous hours later for police and rescuers to search for the missing.
Police deputy commissioner John Tims said the number of those who remained missing was in double figures but he couldn’t confirm an exact number.
He said there were fewer than 50 people on the island when the eruption occurred and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead.
Tims said experts had told them the island remained unstable but search and rescue teams wanted to get back as quickly as they could.
He said there had been no contact with any of those who were missing.
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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
Michael Schade posted video of the eruption on Twitter, saying: “My god. 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 the island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash.
He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she was travelling to the region late on Monday. She said the incident was “very significant”, adding: “All our thoughts are with those affected.”
Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 3600 metres into the air. He said it had also affected the whole of the White Island crater floor.
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. Scott said that was because the eruption wasn’t sustained beyond the initial blast.
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