One dead, 'likely to be more' after New Zealand's Whakaari volcano erupts

Clay Curtis
December 12, 2019

A volcano on a New Zealand island erupted Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam as tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving perhaps two dozen others missing and presumed dead.

He said the names and nationalities of passengers were handed to police, and the Ovation of the Seas would stay docked in Tauranga at least overnight.

The following frame, taken at 2:10pm, shows the group appearing to walk away from the crater. Then the images went black.

"We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island", Peter Buttle said.

A number of people had been visiting White Island as a volcano erupted.

THE terrifying eruption of a volcano in New Zealand this morning was caught on digicam by a ship stuffed with panicked vacationers.

The Ovation of the Seas left Sydney on December 4.

Tourist Michael Schade posted footage of the eruption to Twitter, saying he and his family had been at the crater shortly before the eruption.

Another video showed a helicopter lying in a heap on the ground.

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Round half of those that have been on the island on the time of the eruption are thought to have been from Australia. All were now accounted for. "What happened after that we don't know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats", a company spokesman told AFP.

Whakaari/White Island is situated 48km from the east coast of the Bay of Plenty.

"As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we've seen before", he told AFP. "It was pretty quick".

The country's National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as "moderate", although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead. "There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but now, there are no signs of escalation".

Geonet, which provides quake and volcano hazard information for New Zealand, has their own webcam available here.

Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year.

The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, had raised the alert level on White Island on November 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. The volcano's last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners.

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the alert level on White Island was often raised and then later dropped again without any eruption.

"These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates".

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