This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. The volcano on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists erupted Monday, and a number of people were missing and injured after the blast. (George Novak/New Zealand Herald via AP)

This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. The volcano on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists erupted Monday, and a number of people were missing and injured after the blast. (George Novak/New Zealand Herald via AP)

5 dead, many more missing in eruption of New Zealand volcano

The island has seen an uptick in volcanic activity in the past few weeks

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.

Police said the site was still too dangerous hours later for rescuers to search for the missing.

“My god,” Michael Schade tweeted as he posted video of the eruption. “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”

His video showed a wall of ash and steam around White Island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash. He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.

The terrifying disaster immediately raised questions of why people were allowed to visit the island some 30 miles (50 kilometres) off mainland New Zealand after scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks.

Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said the number of missing was in the double digits but he couldn’t confirm an exact number. Fewer than 50 people were on the island when it erupted, and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead, he said. Tims said there had been no contact with any of the missing.

He said New Zealanders and foreign tourists were among the dead, missing or injured. Most of the 18 who survived were injured, some suffering severe burns, he said.

Some of the visitors were passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

“We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers,” the cruise line said.

The ship had left Sydney last week and had been scheduled to sail to the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Monday night, but Royal Caribbean said it would instead remain in port on neighbouring North Island until more was learned about the situation.

The eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000 feet (3,660 metres) into the air.

The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, had raised the alert level on White Island on Nov. 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. It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who travelled to the region, said the focus remained on the search-and-rescue mission for now and questions about whether tourists should be visiting would be addressed later.

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the alert level was often raised and then later dropped again without any eruption. He said there hadn’t been any major incidents with tourists visiting the island in the past, though there had been some close calls.

Scott said it was not for him to say whether the island was safe enough to host tourists immediately before Monday’s eruption.

After the disaster, GeoNet raised its alert level to 4, later dropping it to 3.

“In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large,” said Ken Gledhill from GeoNet. “But if you were close to that, it is not good.”

White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. About 70% of the volcano lies under the sea.

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself.

The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.

___

Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

Mark Baker And Nick Perry, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jasper after he was reunited with his owners Mary and Brent Hummel. Photo: Steve Smith
New children’s book features lost Kootenay dog

Brent and Mary Hummel and Jasper tell their dramatic story

Electrophysiology (EP) studies the electrical activity of the heart to determine where an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) is coming from. Tests must be performed in an EP Lab, a highly specialized medical diagnostic environment. Photo: KGHFoundation.com
New advanced heart rhythm program opens for Interior Health patients

Medical internists provide cardiac care in Trail, Cranbrook, Vernon, Salmon Arm, and Penticton

Pastafarian Gary Smith, pictured here dressed as a pirate, wanted to wear his tricorn (also pictured here) in his driver’s licence photo, arguing that the display was a religious observance. Photo: Facebook
B.C. Pastafarian loses Supreme Court fight to wear pirate hat in driver’s licence photo

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith put his case to the Supreme Court in Rossland early last month

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

The Head to Head mentorship program is intent on helping athletes like Black Jack Ski Team’s Adam Heale reach their potential. Photo: Submitted.
Olympian’s Head to Head mentorship program coming to Kootenays

Head to Head promotes mental resilience and physical wellness through mentorship program

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Gas prices jumped in Golden to 131.9c this week, a trend that's supposed to continue into the summer. (Claire Palmer/Golden Star)
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Clovechok concerned as gas prices continue to rise

Fuel prices are supposed to skyrocket this summer as British Columbians await BCUC analysis

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read