Heroism, devastation after deadly N. Zealand volcano eruption

Clay Curtis
December 14, 2019

Tales of heroism, devastation and horrifying injuries emerged Tuesday after New Zealand's smouldering White Island volcano exploded, killing an estimated 14 people and turning what should have been an intrepid day trip into a nightmare.

"Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation", police said in a statement.

GeoNet, the government natural disaster agency, said the country's most active cone volcano, Whakaari White Island, in the Bay of Plenty about 30 miles off the northeast New Zealand coast, erupted at about 2:10 p.m. Monday.

The eruption began about 2.30 pm local time (0130 GMT) on the island, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island, authorities said, throwing smoke and debris into the air. This other tour that arrived after couldn't leave in time.

"A day which was phenomenal was made even better (by seeing an eruption) until I got back to the ship and rumours started swirling that some crew and passengers were on tour of the volcano".

Plasse was witnessing the beginnings of the eruption on White Island off the New Zealand coast.

It is not clear whether the group of people inside the crater were among those killed or injured.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said aircraft have flown over the island repeatedly, and "no signs of life have been seen at any point".

"In particular our family in Australia has been heavily impacted. we feel the pull of our bond acutely at this time". The organisation said it had sent seven helicopters with medics onboard.

Local media reports said there were many people on or near the island during the eruption.

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She said the government couldn't confirm whether there had been any deaths.

New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency said that the immediate vicinity of the volcano remains hazardous. She added that there seems to be no danger for the people in the coastal areas, farther from the volcano.

Some of those involved were guests from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

"We know hydrothermal and so-called 'phreatic" eruptions can occur suddenly and with little or no warning because they are driven by the expansion of super-heated water into steam, ' he added.

Usually, what happens is the eruption will be followed by a period of quiescence, and it looks like it has quietened down, but they can not be certain there won't be another eruption in the following 24 hours, he said.

The volcano erupted nearly halfway through the 12-day cruise, and the captain has been giving passengers regular updates, he said.

According to NBCNews.com, two Americans, Matthew and Lauren Urey of Richmond, Virginia, were on the island when the volcano erupted. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016.

Yet, daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the privately owned island every year, marketed as "the world's most accessible active marine volcano".

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

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