At least five people have died and several are missing after the eruption of Whakaari volcano on New Zealand's east coast tourist island on Monday (9). The incident occurred around 2 pm (10 pm Sunday in Brasilia) and local police reported that more than 30 people were hospitalized after being rescued, some with severe burns.
Police do not believe there are survivors among people who are missing after the severe eruption. National police reported Tuesday morning that reconnaissance flights over the island "found no signs of life anywhere."
"Police believe all those who could be taken off the island alive were rescued at the time of evacuation," officials said in a statement. "Based on the information we have, we don't believe there are any survivors on the island."
Soon after the eruption, rescuers were unable to search because of the risk of further eruptions.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the ashes spewed from the Whakaari volcano are hampering rescue efforts. "I know there will be a lot of worry and anxiety for those who had loved people on the island at that time – and I can guarantee the police are doing everything they can."
Whakaari volcano is one of the most active in the country and the private island where it is located is touristic, with frequent daily excursions and scenic flights available. Tourists were seen walking inside the volcano crater moments before the eruption and those who managed to save themselves posted videos and photos as they left the island.
Brazilian couple narrowly escapes
A Brazilian couple traveling through New Zealand narrowly escaped the eruption of the volcano on White Island. In her Instagram account, Aline Moura reported the moments of panic experienced by the pair, who took a tour of the volcano region minutes before the explosion.
"The craziest thing in our life has just happened. We strolled the volcano about an hour and a half ago, and 10 minutes after we entered a bar, it erupted," she said. She explained that the boat they were on returned around the island, but they did not know if everyone had managed to survive. "We just hope no one is hurt. Thank God we're fine," Aline said.
She claimed that the nearby White Island volcano tour was one of the most anticipated. The guides had not yet confirmed the trip to the site because, the day before, a volcanic activity was identified. Nevertheless, they decided to go ahead with the planning.
Aline said that as they drifted away from the volcano's boat, they could see a "gigantic black cloud" and people with burns, "some very serious." "We were very lucky," she said, relieved.
Her husband Allessandro Kauffmann said two groups of tourists visited the island on Monday. "One of them was ours, the first. We left five minutes before the volcano erupted. The other tour that arrived soon after, unfortunately they couldn't get out on time, and there were some people who suffered severe burns," he said.
Agency warned of the risk
Several of the tourists visiting the island during the eruption came with the ship Ovation of the Seas, which offers excursions to the volcano.
Photos of the volcanic crater rim taken minutes before the eruption show people walking nearby, the New Zealand Herald said.
A video of the recorded eruption of a boat captured thick clouds rising from the island. A voice could be heard frantically telling passengers to enter the cabin of the boat. In another video, the island appeared to be completely ashes.
New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency warned on Twitter Monday that conditions were "dangerous around the volcano" and urged people to pay attention to detailed safety advice.
The same dangerous conditions prevented police and rescue services from reaching the island, Tims said, and experts warned that more eruptions could occur.
GeoNet, an agency providing geological risk information for New Zealand, has issued several reports of "volcanic disturbances" on the island since late October.
"Moderate volcanic unrest continues on Whakaari / White Island, with substantial explosions of gas, steam and mud observed at the opening located at the back of the crater lake," a report said last Tuesday. The report warned of suspicions that the volcano was entering a period when eruptive activity is higher than normal.
White Island had a "short-lived eruption" in April 2016. Five months later, it emitted ashes through an opening in the 2012 lava dome.
Monday's devastating eruption was surprising but not unique, according to GeoNet scientist Ken Gledhill. "Comparatively, in terms of volcanic eruptions, this one is not big," he told the Associated Press. "But it wouldn't be nice to be around her."
Tour operators are responsible for making the final decision to take visitors to the privately owned island with controlled access, the New Zealand Herald said.
During the press conference, Ardern declined to answer whether visitors should have been allowed to go to the island.
Below are images taken by tourists who managed to escape the volcano's fury on White Island.
White Island Tour Operators Rescuing People Minutes After New Zealand White Island Volcano Erupted | Photo: Courtesy / Michael Schade / AFP | AFPNew Zealand White Island Volcano Spewing Steam and Ash on December 9, 2019 | Photo: Press Release / Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences / AFP | AFP New Zealand White Island Volcano Erupts | Photo: Courtesy / Michael Schade / AFP | AFPImage: Google EarthContent edited by: Isabella Mayer de Moura