03 white island volcano
Many dead after volcano erupts in New Zealand
01:30 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • Volcanic eruption: Search and rescue operations are continuing after a volcano erupted on New Zealand’s White Island on Monday afternoon.
  • Dead and missing: At least 6 people have been confirmed dead, and 8 are missing. Officials have warned that they don’t believe there are any survivors on the island.
  • Horrific injuries: Many survivors suffered extensive burns to their bodies and lungs. Every burns unit in the country is at full capacity.
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Volcanic conditions on White Island hinder recovery of bodies

Two days after the volcanic eruption on White Island, police said the recovery of bodies is the “absolute priority” but noted the environment on the island has changed since the eruption.

Police will continue to assess the safety of deploying teams on the island with scientific experts in Wellington every two to three hours. 

Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird told reporters Wednesday that drones have been able to look over the island, but said it remained too dangerous to begin the recovery of bodies. Disaster victim identification specialists are standing by in Whakatane ready to be deployed

Volcanic tremor has "significantly increased" at White Island

White Island’s level of volcanic tremor significantly increased on Wednesday morning local time, said GeoNet, which assesses geological risk in New Zealand.

The tremor suggests that volcanic gas pressures remain high, the agency said.

Since around 4:00 am this morning the level of volcanic tremor has significantly increased at the island. This has been accompanied by vigorous steaming and localised mud jetting in several of the craters created by the eruption on Monday. We interpret these signals as evidence of continued high gas pressures within the volcano.
The situation remains highly uncertain as to future activity. Eruptions in the next 24 hours are still likely to occur.

Cruise ship leaves Tauranga

A cruise ship named Ovation of the Seas – which carried some of the tourists who were impacted by the eruption – left the port in Tauranga on Wednesday.

Locals gather to wave off the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, which carried passengers who travelled to White Island when it erupted.

More than 30 passengers from the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line were believed to have been on the island when the volcano erupted.

In a statement to CNN, the cruise company said it was “devastated” and working with local authorities.

Locals gather to wave off the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

25 patients in critical condition

There are currently 30 patients in hospitals around New Zealand, according to local police. These are hospitals in Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Auckland City, Tauranga, Waikato and Christchurch.

Twenty-five patients are in critical condition, while the other five are in serious, but stable condition, police said.

Police will meet with scientists to assess whether it's safe to access White Island

New Zealand police will meet with scientists on Wednesday to asses whether it’s safe to access White Island, according to a new statement posted online.

“Those deploying to the island will likely encounter serious physical and chemical hazards, for which we must be prepared,” the police added, noting that a surveillance drone was launched earlier today.

Disaster victim identification specialists are standing by in Whakatane ready to be deployed, the statement said, describing the recovery of bodies is “an absolute priority.”

Victim identification will be "complex matter"

The bodies of five victims are being transported to Auckland, with autopsies scheduled for Wednesday, the New Zealand Police said.

“We are working to confirm the identities of those involved, including those who have died and who are injured,” the police said in a statement, adding:

“The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter. We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible, to return those who have died to their loved ones.”

The New Zealand branch of the Red Cross said it sent volunteers to the scene to provide emotional support to those affected by the disaster.

New Zealand wakes up to another day of searching for the missing

The sun has risen over New Zealand’s White Island, where several people are still missing following a volcanic eruption on Monday.

Six people have been confirmed dead and at least 30 are still receiving treatment in multiple hospitals across the country.  

New Zealand Police continue searching for those who are still unaccounted for. The police said there have been no signs of life on the island since the explosion, and that the eight missing people are now presumed dead.

Malaysian citizen in critical condition in hospital

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry says one of its citizens is in critical condition in hospital following the volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand on Monday.

The Malaysian High Commission in Wellington also said it was also working to identify a Malaysian citizen who was reported dead.

Earlier New Zealand Police said just one Malaysian citizen was involved in the incident. It is unclear if the second Malaysian citizen is a dual passport holder.

Chinese embassy provides assistance to two injured citizens 

The Chinese Embassy in New Zealand has sent staff to provide assistance to two injured Chinese citizens. 

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said:

“After what had happened, the Chinese embassy in New Zealand immediately launched an emergency response mechanism … tried to confirm the situations of the two injured … and sent people to the hospital to visit the injured.”

An island nation on the ring of fire

New Zealand is a country renowned for its natural beauty – it’s a place with soaring, snow-covered mountains, bubbling thermal pools, and vast, clear lakes.

But it’s also a country that straddles two tectonic plates and is on what’s known as the “Ring of Fire” – a trail of volcanoes and earthquake prone areas around the Pacific Ocean that follow the line of where tectonic plates collide.

A nation of volcanoes: The North Island’s Lake Taupo was created by a volcanic eruption nearly 2,000 years ago. Rotorua’s natural hot pools are created by geothermal activity bubbling under the earth. The country’s hilly capital, Wellington, is built on an active fault, and its largest city, Auckland, is home to approximately 50 volcanoes – including some that lie dormant.

Deadly eruptions: New Zealand has experienced deadly eruptions and earthquakes – most recently the 2011 Christchurch quake that killed 185 people. But there have been many events that have not been fatal.

Last deadly eruption on White Island a century ago: White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano, but the last fatal event on the island was around 100 years ago, when a crater wall collapsed, killing 10 miners.

But for those living in New Zealand, volcanic activity and earthquakes are often a part of life. 

“There are many parts of the world that have a similar kind of risk profile both in terms of volcanism and earthquakes – it’s just part of the world we live in,” said Auckland University volcanologist Shane Cronin. “(Up until now) I think we’ve been lucky.”

Volcanologist describes what it would have been like on the island when the volcano erupted

The White Island volcano in Whakatane pictured on December 10, 2019 -- a day after a volcanic eruption.

Professor Raymond Cas, a volcano expert from Monash University, has described what it would have been like for those stuck on White Island during the eruption.

“The conditions that those poor people experienced yesterday would have been absolutely horrific,” Cas told CNN.

Cas says that “visibility would have been zero,” and it would have been difficult for people to be able to see “which way to run safely.”

“They would have been engulfed in noxious volcanic gases, and of course they would have been affected by the high temperature of the suddenly erupted hot crater water and very hot rock debris.”

Cas says he believes it was “not acceptable to allow the general public to walk on the floor of a major explosive volcanic crater like that,” particularly because of the high level of geothermal activity that it’s been showing.

“There are many other areas in NZ where people can experience volcano tourism with much lower levels of risk,” Cas added.

Rescue workers capture dramatic video of White Island

New video, which was released earlier today from Auckland’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter, shows the dramatic moment two rescuers were dropped on White Island after the volcano’s eruption.

Take a look at the footage below:

How New Zealand's warning system works

In the weeks before the eruption, New Zealand volcano monitoring service GeoNet raised the alert level on White Island to level 2.

Volcanic alert levels: New Zealand’s volcanoes are rated from zero to five, with zero meaning that there is no volcanic unrest, while ratings from three to five mean there is an eruption taking place. A rating of two means that there is low level volcanic activity taking place.

They don’t offer advice: GeoNet’s ratings alert levels explain what the likely hazards are, but they don’t tell visitors how to act and they don’t carry any legal weight. Nor do they offer advice on what actions should be taken – that’s up to those who are visiting the volcano.

But volcanoes can erupt on any level: Volcanoes like White Island can erupt even if they are at level 1. 

Read more here.

Six people are dead, and almost all of the survivors suffered extensive burns

Almost all patients who were injured in the deadly New Zealand volcanic eruption have suffered extensive burns to their bodies and lungs, as questions mount over the circumstances surrounding the tragedy that has left at least six people dead.

Every burns unit in the country is at full capacity as medical staff do all they can to treat those with severe injuries from the volcanic ash and gas, Ministry of Health spokesman Pete Watson said Tuesday.

A handout photo from Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust showing the ash-covered island.

Out of the 31 people still in hospital, 27 had burns to at least 30% of their bodies and many have inhalation burns that require airway support.

Given the extent of survivors’ injuries, the death toll could continue to rise.

Authorities are now working to gather information on the dead, injured, and missing, and provide emergency services to those affected, after the eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari, left at least six people dead.

The injured were aged between 13 and 72.

Unstable conditions continued to hamper rescue workers from searching for people missing and feared dead.

Police confirmed the death of a sixth victim in a statement on Tuesday. The unnamed person was earlier being treated at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.

Eight people remain missing after Monday’s eruption, which occurred while 47 people were visiting the island.

Those involved are from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Should tourists have been on New Zealand's volcanic White Island?

Following the deadly eruption of New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island, some are asking whether more steps could have been taken to keep tourists safe – and even whether tourists should have been on the island at all.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Monash University volcanologist Raymond Cas, who has visited the volcano himself. “I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”

Increasing tourism: In the past 30 years, tourism to White Island has increased steadily and local officials said tours there are crucial to the area’s economy. On Monday, White Island Tours – a company based in the nearby beach town of Whakatane – took 38 tourists from countries around the world to the island on the day of the eruption.

Alert level was low: Under the company’s internal guidelines, it could still take visitors to the island during an alert level 2 – which means that there is low level volcanic activity taking place – said Paul Quinn, the chairman of White Island Tours.

Who sets the guidelines: The company is able to set its own policies on whether it will still go to the island if there are signs of volcanic activity. But it doesn’t have completely free reign. When the company makes its decisions, it also needs to comply with the country’s health and safety standards, which are set by government regulator WorkSafe. Under New Zealand’s laws, businesses need to ensure any health and safety risks are managed.

Monitoring systems not yet good enough: Monday’s eruption shows that volcanic monitoring isn’t yet good enough to make experiences like visiting White Island risk free, said Auckland University volcanologist Shane Cronin. “Until we get our monitoring systems – and our understanding of these systems – right, we probably need to look at whether those near-to-crater operations should carry on like they have been,” he said.

Read more here.

Here's what we know so far

Mourners at the Whakatane Wharf on December 10, 2019.

It’s been about 33 hours since the volcano erupted on White Island. Hope for survivors is dwindling as authorities warn that those missing are presumed dead, and that those hospitalized are suffering life-threatening injuries.

If you’re just joining us now, here’s what you need to know:

  • What happened? A volcano erupted yesterday around 2 p.m. local time on White Island, off the north coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
  • Who was there? 47 people were on the island at the time of eruption, hailing from seven countries. At least 30 are believed to have been passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Ovation of the Seas.
  • Deaths: There have been six confirmed deaths, but the number may rise – those in hospital are facing critical injuries.
  • Missing: There are still eight people missing and presumed dead.
  • Injuries: 31 people are in hospital on the New Zealand mainland, while three have been treated and discharged.
  • Recovery operation: Authorities are now working to identify victims, offer emergency and relief services to those affected, monitor the volcano for possible further eruptions, and gauge whether it’s safe for rescuers to access the island and recover those presumed dead.

BREAKING: A sixth death has been confirmed

New Zealand police have confirmed that another person has died following the eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari.

The death toll from the disaster now stands at six.

Police said in a statement that the person, who has not been identified, was earlier being treated at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.

Here are the faces of the dead and missing

Although New Zealand authorities are still slowly working through the process of identifying victims of yesterday’s volcanic eruption on White Island, names and faces of the dead and missing have begun to emerge.

Here are some of the victims:

Hayden Marshall-Inman, pictured above, is the first victim to be identified dead. He was a guide with New Zealand’s White Island tours, and was killed in the eruption, according to Radio New Zealand.

His brother, Mark Inman, paid tribute to him on Facebook earlier today, saying he had “past [sic] away doing the one thing he loved.”

Gavin Dallow, pictured above on the left, is still missing. His partner, Lisa Dallow, on the right, is alive and being treated in hospital with severe burns. Another member of Lisa’s family, 15-year-old Zoe Hosking, is also missing.

The family is from Adelaide, South Australia.

Anthony, Kristine, and Jesse Langford, pictured above, are all missing. A fourth family member, Winona (not pictured), is also missing. The family had traveled to New Zealand from Sydney, Australia.

Jesse and Winona, the two children, are aged 19 and 17.

Anthony Langford’s brother Robert told CNN affiliate Channel 7, “We don’t know anything at all, but I’m hoping that somebody knows anything, has seen my brother, knows my brother or has seen his wife or their kids.”

Mourners have left a wall of flowers and tributes by the Whakatane wharf

Night has fallen in Whakatane, New Zealand. The wharf in the town is cordoned off, but the fence is covered with flowers, cards, and notes paying tribute to the victims of the volcanic eruption.

Some of the messages mourn those who are missing or presumed dead. One reads, “To my best man, you will always be my best man. You are always in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We will always have the memories.”

Other cards are from well-wishers and local residents, with condolences to those on the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Ovation of the Seas.

There were believed to be at least 30 passengers from the ship taking a tour of the island when the eruption took place. There has been no word on how many have returned or were injured.

A passenger told CNN that Royal Caribbean had offered counselling services to any passengers who needed it.