On Monday, a minute of silence was observed by the New Zealanders across the country to honor the victims of last week’s fatal volcanic eruption. Police continued the efforts and recovered two bodies.
The official death toll from the surprise eruption on White Island, also called Whakaari (its Maori name), stands at 16. Bodies of two people are still officially listed as missing and are believed to be in the waters around the island.
Currently, 26 people are receiving treatment in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia; many of them are in critical condition with severe burn injuries. Standing alongside her ministers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led Monday’s minute of silence, in Wellington’s distinctive “Beehive” parliament building.
“New Zealand will Hold the victims Close”
Ardern posted on her official Instagram account, “Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close”. The US embassy in Wellington posted a photograph on Twitter of its staff, with heads bowed, before a US flag flying at half-mast.
Despite several hours of searching over the weekend, recovery teams have so far been unsuccessful at locating the final two bodies. However, they retrieved six bodies from the island last Friday.
New Zealand Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, said another aerial search would be conducted on Monday to help naval divers to devise a plan for a further underwater search. “We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” Bush told Radio New Zealand.
The volcano, a popular destination for tourists, erupted last Monday, spitting out ash, steam, and gases over the island. There were 47 people on the island when the incident happened, which included 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, as well as others from the U.S., Germany, China, the UK, and Malaysia.
“So happy to be home,” Australian tourist, Jo Anne Anderson, told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “There are dead people, people who went on a trip of a lifetime, and they haven’t come home. It is dreadful”.
Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, is expected to visit New Zealand later on Monday for a meeting with Ardern to express Australia’s thanks to emergency and medical crews.
According to legal experts, there are expected lawsuits to be filed in the US courts by injured tourists and families of those deceased. There has been a growing cloud of criticism as to why tourists were allowed on the island at all, given the risks of an active volcano.
A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s declined to comment on the criticism from some passengers about the expedition and the cruise line’s handling of the situation after the tragedy.
“We will to continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
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