‘Unfathomable grief’: 13 feared dead at New Zealand volcano
Police to launch a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries at Whakaari island eruption.
10 Dec 2019
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed “unfathomable grief” on Tuesday after a volcanic eruption at a popular tourist island, as the police announced that it is launching a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the deadly incident.
Ardern confirmed five fatalities and said eight people were still missing after Monday’s eruption at Whakaari, also known as White Island.
There was little hope of finding the missing alive, after overnight aerial reconnaissance flights found no signs of life. Police also said that the bodies left on the island are covered in ash.
“The focus this morning is on recovery and ensuring police can do that safely,” Ardern told a news conference.
Reuters and AFP news agencies confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that a criminal investigation is being launched by police to look into the incident, and why the tourists were allowed despite an earlier warning about volcanic activities.
Among those on the island during the cataclysm were tourists from Australia, the United States, the UK, China and Malaysia, as well as their New Zealand guides.
“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief and in your sorrow,” Ardern said.
When the blast occurred, it was being visited by a group of more than 30 people from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Ovation of the Seas, which left Sydney on a 12-day voyage last week.
The threat level at the volcano had been raised in recent days, and questions are already being asked about whether it was safe for tour groups to visit.
Cruise operator Royal Caribbean had sold a day trip to White Island as an “unforgettable” adventure to New Zealand’s most active volcano, one that took visitors so close to the action they could require gas masks and hard hats.
White Island Tours said it “operates through the varying alert levels” but that “passengers should be aware that there is always a risk of eruptive activity regardless of the alert level”.
Scientists said there had been increased activity at the volcano over the past week – but nothing to indicate an eruption was imminent.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Graham Leonard, senior vulcanologist at the country’s leading geoscience research agency, GNS Science, also pointed out that Whakaari is the most active volcano in the country, and that it is “clearly capable” of erupting without prior warning.
He said that while his agency provides information about volcanic activities in the island, it is “within the bounds” of the tour operators to bring visitors to the island or not.
A volcano erupted in New Zealand, spewing a plume of ash thousands of metres into the air and killing at least five people. An unknown number were trapped as conditions for search-and-rescue teams were too dangerous. An estimated 50 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began at about 2pm (01:00 GMT) on White Island, […]