Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 February 2020

New Zealand's White Island volcano erupts: five confirmed dead and eight missing

Thirty-four survivors found of 47 people on island at time

New Zealand police said they could see "no signs of life" on White Island after a volcanic eruption killed five people and left eight others missing and feared dead.

The volcano erupted at 2.11pm local time on Monday. It consisted to two explosions in quick succession, sending plumes of smoke and ash an estimated 3,660 metres into the air.

Authorities said 47 people were on the island at the time. Thirty-one survivors were taken to hospital and three released, officials said. Some of the victims were severely burnt.

"Anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation," New Zealand Police said on Monday afternoon.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island."

The missing and injured included New Zealanders and tourists from the US, China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Police are working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died.

A New Zealand military vessel will approach the perimeter of the island at first light on Tuesday to use drones to further assess the environment.

Earlier, Police deputy commissioner John Tims said the number of missing was in the double digits but he couldn't confirm an exact number.

Cameras providing a live feed from the volcano showed more than half a dozen people walking inside the rim before images went dark when the eruption occurred minutes later.

The Pacific Ring of Fire. The National 
The Pacific Ring of Fire. The National 

Earlier, New Zealand police confirmed that 23 people had been taken off the island, including the five dead, but said it was "too dangerous" to carry out more rescues, with more than 20 people still unaccounted for.

"We are unsure of the numbers and unsure of their well-being," Mr Tims said.

The New Zealand Herald said the tourists were on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, berthed at the Port of Tauranga.

The ship can take about 5,000 passengers and has a crew of about 1,500. A company spokesman said it "had no further details at the moment".

The country's National Emergency Management Agency said a "moderate volcanic eruption is occurring at White Island and is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano".

Volcanologist Geoff Kilgour later wrote on geonet.org.nz: "Our monitoring data shows that there was a short-lived eruption that generated an ash plume to about 12,000ft above the vent.

"Ash has covered the main crater floor as seen in our webcam images. Ash fall appears to be confined to the island and we do not expect more than a minor amount of ash to reach East Cape in the coming hours.

"Our monitoring equipment is still operating and we have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption.

"There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently there are no signs of escalation."

Ash from the eruption was visible from the mainland and the emergency management agency said falling ash might affect some areas.

The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand's most active and its last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners. There was a small eruption in April 2016.

The eruption was accompanied by two earthquakes, in Chile and the Fiji Islands region, along the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Tourist tweets escape from volcano

Tourist Michael Schade stood at the crater of the White Island volcano minutes before it erupted on Monday and shared his terrifying experience in videos posted on social media.

"My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001," he tweeted.

"My family and I got off it 20 minutes before. We were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it."

A huge plume of white ash soars into the sky as Mr Schade speeds away from the island in a boat.

In another tweet, a group of people huddle together at the island shore and some wade into the sea.

"Those are some of the people our boat picked up," Mr Schade tweeted to his 2,570 followers.

"Praying for them and their recovery. Woman my mum tended to was in critical condition but seemed strong by the end."

A helicopter parked nearby on the island looked crumpled and covered in ash.

Mr Schade, whose Twitter biography says he is from San Francisco, praised tour operators who helped tend to people in the minutes after the eruption.

Updated: December 10, 2019 09:45 AM

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