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5 dead, 8 missing after New Zealand volcano eruption

10 December 2019 09:30
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5 dead, 8 missing after New Zealand volcano eruption

SYDNEY. KAZINFORM - New Zealand authorities confirmed Tuesday that five people have died and eight remain missing after a volcano off the country's North Island erupted abruptly a day earlier, Kyodo reports.

Speaking at a press conference, Bruce Bird, a local police superintendent, said 47 people were on White Island, located in the Bay of Plenty roughly 50 kilometers off the coast, at the time of the eruption.

Bird said 31 people are still being treated for injuries in hospital while three were discharged overnight.

«Today our focus will be on working with the experts to determine the safety for us to return to the island to recover those people that are currently missing,» Bird said, following on from police statements on Monday that seismic conditions on the island were too unstable to perform further rescue or recovery operations.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the press conference that aerial reconnaissance flights over the island conducted overnight found no signs of life.

«For now, our duty is to return loved ones,» Ardern said. «To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment in time.»

White Island, also known as Whakaari in the local indigenous Maori language, erupted at 2:11 p.m. on Monday. Authorities understand there were two explosions, one after another in quick succession.

A webcam used by geological hazard monitoring system, GeoNet, to monitor seismic activity on the island showed people walking near the crater just minutes before the eruption. The video footage has since been removed from the GeoNet website.

Ardern praised the efforts of first responders, including a number of helicopter pilots, who flew to the island to rescue survivors immediately after the volcano spewed a 3,600-meter-high column of ash into the air.

«(They) made an incredibly brave decision under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in an attempt to get people out. As a result of their efforts a number of people were rescued from the island,» she said.

The prime minister said in addition to New Zealanders, tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China and Malaysia are among those currently listed as missing or injured.

Those on an unofficial missing persons list, compiled by the New Zealand Red Cross Family Links website, range from young children to the elderly.

Australians were among the largest group of people caught up in the eruption.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday morning that 11 Australians are still unaccounted for or among the dead.

«We fear, of the five deceased persons, that three of those, up to three, are Australians, but that is not yet confirmed,» Morrison said at a press conference.

«I fear there is worse news to come over the course of today or the next few days. This is a terrible tragedy.»

The majority of people in the vicinity of the volcano at the time of the eruption were passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship which departed Sydney earlier in December.

The Ovation of the Seas liner remains docked at Tauranga, roughly 90 kilometers from White Island, and was due to set sail on Monday night, but has since delayed its departure.

White Island is New Zealand's most active cone volcano and is a popular tourist destination with over 10,000 people visiting each year through daily tours of the site.

Photo credit: www.nytimes.com


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