Twenty-Seven Missing After New Zealand Volcano Erupts

The eruption took place on White Island

New Zealand
Steam is pictured emitting from White Island from the Bay of Plenty coastline on December 09, 2019 in Whakatane, New Zealand.
John Boren/Getty Images

Whakaari, or White Island, is located in northern New Zealand. On Monday morning, it was home to a volcanic explosion that left over half of the 50 people currently on the island unaccounted for — leading authorities to fear the worst. 

At The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Wright and Rachel Pannett have some details on the tragic event. “Images captured by a hazard-monitoring camera on volcanic White Island appear to show people near the smoking crater seconds before the volcano erupted,” they write. “The images don’t show the precise moment of the eruption, suggesting the camera was damaged in the blast.”

Authorities were able to evacuate 23 people, and also confirmed that 5 had died as a result of the explosion. 

The explosion took place at around 2:11 pm local time. The Washington Post reports that several of the visitors to the island were from a Royal Carribbean cruise that had stopped there. 

One of the visitors, Michael Schade, posted images of the evacuation on social media.

New Zealand Police have released a statement on the explosion and its aftermath. “No signs of life have been seen at any point,” it reads in part. It also describes some of the recovery efforts that have been attempted:

Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.

Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.

Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, has arrived in the closest major town and has met with local leaders, The Guardian reports

The New Zealand Red Cross has set up a page for family members to check on the status of their loved ones. 

The BBC explored the island’s history and popularity as a tourist destination. The presence of an active volcano there has been attractive to a number of visitors in the past, and was also used by tour companies as a selling point for visiting the island.

The BBC’s report also notes that there were indications of greater activity beneath the volcano in the lead-up to this week’s explosion. “In the weeks leading up to it, the alert level was raised from one – meaning minor volcanic unrest – to two, indicating moderate to heightened volcanic unrest,” notes the report. It’s a harrowing reminder that, while technology can anticipate some events like this, it can’t predict them with precision.

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