Tourists were seen walking inside the volcano’s rim, moments before the eruption on Monday.
New Zealand’s privately-owned White Island, or Whakaari (Māori name), is a famous destination for tours and scenic flights. It has been defined by some tour operators as a “living, breathing, geological giant” and “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”. However, it was not “a beautiful” Monday for White Island.
The New Zealand police have initiated an investigation into the eruption, which highlighted the scale of the disaster in which at least five people died and a further eight have feared to have perished.
New Zealand police deputy commissioner, John Tims has strongly suggested that no one survived on the island. He said 47 people were present on the uninhabited island at the time of the incident– 24 from Australia, nine from the U.S., five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK, and one from Malaysia.
According to Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, reconnaissance flights indicated no signs of life on the island. However, eyewitnesses explained the awful burns suffered by those stuck in the Monday’s eruption.
“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” the Prime Minister said in the parliament. She also stated, “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated”.
Dr. Pete Watson from the ministry of health said that thirty-one patients were being treated for the burns and not all were expected to survive. Twenty-seven are suffering from burns to at least 30% of their bodies and many have suffered inhalation injuries, causing damage to the lungs.
Locals were Ready to Help
Police said they had boats sailing 1km off the Coast of White Island, but they were unable to send drones to test the gas levels and do reconnaissance missions due to strong winds. Local helicopter pilots said they were volunteering for body-retrieval missions, but were being paralyzed by an overly cautious emergency response plan.
Seismic activity has gone down on Tuesday but scientists estimated there was a 50% chance of a similar or smaller sized eruption within the next 24 hours. GNS Science, the government’s research organization said that web cameras on the island showed jets of gas and steam were still being released from the area.
Was there any warning?
There was a warning of unusual activity at the volcano before the eruption. In November, the alert level of one to two was raised. ‘One’ meaning minor volcanic unrest and ‘two’ indicating moderate to heightened volcanic unrest.
“There was a heightened level of unrest and everyone was aware,” Professor Lindsay said. But, she added, “even though there was increased activity, there was no sense of what was going to happen”.
Some have questioned whether New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, should have been operating as a tourist destination. The island previously had a short eruption in 2016, in which no one was injured.
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