Five people have died and eight are still unaccounted for after a devastating volcanic eruption engulfed locals and tourists on New Zealand’s White Island on Monday.
New Zealand police said 47 people were on the island, off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, when the volcano erupted. Tourists from Australia, the UK, China, Malaysia and the US are among those missing and injured.
Three Australians are believed to be among the five people confirmed dead.
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
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been front and centre since the disaster struck. Her response has been immediate, compassionate and measured.
“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who have loved ones on or around the island at the time,” she said in her initial statement soon after the disaster.
“I can assure them police are doing everything they can.”
Ardern praised the efforts of helicopter pilots who flew to the island shortly after eruption. She said they made “an incredibly brave decision under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in an attempt to get people out.”
“They worked very, very quickly to make sure the persons got the critical care when and where they needed.”
“Now in the aftermath, we are working through all the information we need in order to give the information we need to victims’ families but also to those who want to provide consular assistance.”
Five people are confirmed dead and eight are still missing after New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praises helicopter pilots who flew in and managed to rescue some people. pic.twitter.com/PBRPsv1W60
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) December 9, 2019
Ardern left the technical questions to the experts and on Tuesday morning said she would be contacting the first responders to commend their efforts.
“I’ll be reaching out to those who are among the first responders. There were, as I described, helicopter [pilots] with no thought to their own safety, operators who travelled to the island to extract survivors. They made an exceptional decision under hugely volatile circumstances, and I know New Zealand would want to acknowledge that.”
White Island has operated as a tourist site for decades despite being New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. The privately owned island is famous for its dramatic landscape and daily tours.
Ardern said that while her focus is on the victims of the disaster and their loved ones, there are questions that needed to be answered at a later stage.
“It is a very unpredictable volcano, there will be questions that will be asked and do need to be answered by the appropriate authorities.”
Photo Credit: Michael Schade. Twitter: @sch