Death Toll climbs in NZ Volcano eruption

10:39 (GMT+2) Mon, 09 Dec 2019

Five people have been confirmed dead and many more are still missing after a volcano erupted on New Zealand's White Island, a popular tourist destination, police say.

While it was initially believed there were approximately 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption at 2:11 pm (0111 GMT), police now believe there were fewer than 50 present. 

Of those, at least 23 have been rescued from the island, with up to 27 still unaccounted for. The five victims were evacuated from the island but later died.

Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those missing and injured.

Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the eruption sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000 feet into the air. He said it had also affected the whole of the White Island crater floor.

White Island sits about 50 km offshore from mainland New Zealand. Already people are questioning why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.

GeoNet said White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano and about 70% of the volcano is 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, according to GeoNet.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

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


(George Novak/New Zealand Herald via AP)