New Zealand recovery team returns to volcanic island for bodies

Death toll from last week's eruption rose to 16 on Sunday as one more person died in an Australian hospital.

    An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano [Jorge Silva/Reuters]
    An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

    New Zealand recovery teams have returned to the volcanic White Island but were unable to locate two remaining bodies in their search as the death toll from the eruption rose to 16.

    Authorities said eight police search-and-rescue staff were deployed for 75 minutes on Sunday to an area in which their information suggested one body may remain.

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    "I can say we have found no further bodies in that area," Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement told a media conference on Sunday.

    On Friday, six bodies were successfully retrieved from the island by a New Zealand military team and taken to the mainland for disaster victim identification.

    Police said they remained committed to recovering the two bodies and police and military divers were continuing to scour the waters around the island.

    "Everyone went out there absolutely desperate to find bodies and return them to loved ones," Clement said.

    On Saturday, divers faced contaminated waters and low visibility as they searched the sea surrounding the island.

    The volcano, a popular destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people who were on the island at the time were Australian, American, German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists.

    Severe burns

    The death toll rose to 16 on Sunday as one more person died in an Australian hospital. That death is the first to occur in Australia following the eruption, where many of the victims were from and have been transferred to.

    The toll may rise further as more than two dozen people are still hospitalised across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.

    There has been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given signs of increasing tremor activity in the days before the eruption.

    A minute's silence will be observed in New Zealand on Monday at 14:11 local time (01:11 GMT), exactly one week after the fatal eruption occurred.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency