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New Zealand eruption: No survivors on White Island after volcano suddenly erupts, say police

Jon Sharman
New Zealand's White Island spewing steam and ash minutes after an eruption: Michael Schade/AFP via Getty

There are no more survivors of the volcanic eruption on New Zealand‘s White Island that killed at least five and left more than 30 wounded, police have said.

The death toll is expected to rise, with British nationals feared to be among those missing.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” police said.

“It is now clear there were two groups on the island,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern​ said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “Those who were able to be evacuated, and those who were close to the eruption.

“We can confirm that among those currently listed as missing or injured are New Zealanders who were part of the tour operation, and tourists from Australia, the United States, the UK, China and Malaysia. That is to the best of our knowledge.”

Two British women are among those injured and receiving treatment in hospital, the UK high commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke, has said.

Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Tuesday three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.

Top officers had said earlier Monday it was too dangerous for emergency workers to search the unstable island for survivors.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, were feared to have been nearby and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Deputy commissioner John Tims said New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among the dead, missing and wounded, and that most of the 18 who survived were injured, including some who were severely burned.

One tourist said he had been on the crater just minutes before the explosion.

“My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it,” he said on Twitter.

Many day tours visit the island regularly, and one from the Ovation of the Seas cruise liner was there at the time.

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said, adding that others were still on the island at the time.

In a statement, New Zealand police said: “The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point. Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.

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

“[We are] working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.”

A spokesman for the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said they were seeking further information about missing British nationals.

Experts said they believed the island, which is New Zealand’s most continuously active volcano, had been dangerous for some time. It last erupted three years ago.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Centre.

“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”

Monday’s was the first deadly eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari, since 1914.

The volcanic island is uninhabited and privately owned. It lies about 50km off the coast of North Island and about 70 per cent of it is under the ocean’s surface.

Additional reporting by agencies

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