One person has now been confirmed dead as a result of today’s volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, with more than 20 people still thought to be on the island.
The tragic news was confirmed during a press conference in New Zealand just minutes ago, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying that it “continues to be an evolving situation” and stressing that the focus is firmly on the rescue effort that is currently underway in the region, crediting police for “doing everything they can”.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Ardern suggested there could have been around 100 people on or around the island at the time of the blast, however that estimation has now been lowered to fewer than 50, according to New Zealand National Operation Commander Deputy Commissioner John Tims.
Speaking at the press conference, alongside the prime minister, Tims said: “At this stage it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go on to the island… the island is currently covered in ash and volcanic material.”
So far a total of 23 people have been removed from the island – including the deceased – but authorities are unable to give an exact number as to how many people remain on Whakaari, with estimations sitting at around 20 or more. The deputy commissioner also said that, as a result of the information they have received, there are “likely to be more” fatalities.
During the press conference, it was also confirmed that a number of those tourists who were on or around the island at the time of the eruption, which took place at 2.11 pm local time on Monday, were tourists from a cruise ship.
According to multiple reports, the passengers are thought to have been travelling on the Ovation of the Seas and fellow passengers on-board the ship have since taken to Twitter to confirm the reports.
One person who claimed to be onboard the ship wrote: “We are on the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas in Tauranga and they are passengers and crew from the ship involved. We were due sail at 6.00pm but Captain announced we will not sail for some time.”
Another said: “If you hear the news about the volcano going off in NZ we’re all ok. It appears there are injuries to people from our cruise ship who were there on a day tour. Reports of 20 injured and 100 missing. The volcano is on White Island and we are on Ovation of the Seas.”
While one Starts at 60 community member wrote on Facebook: “As a tourists on board ovation of the seas it is confirmed we are waiting for news regarding fellow guests and staff from the ship. We hope all are safely returned to the ship.”
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. 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. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt
— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
GeoNet Project DirectorDr Ken Gledhill was also invited up onto the stage during the press conference to answer questions from reporters about the scale and impact of the eruption.
He said: “It is not a part big eruption, it was almost like a throat clearing kind of eruption. It went up about 12,000 metres into the sky and, so in the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it’s not large but if you are close to that, it is not good.”
Dr Gledhill also confirmed that there had been increased activity on White Island in recent weeks, causing GeoNet to raise the alert level, however he said that experts could not be sure whether there will be another eruption within the next 24 hours, or whether the worst is now over.