At approximately 2:11 p.m. local time on Monday, a volcano erupted on Whakaari/White Island off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. As of publication, the death toll stands at 15 and counting.
At the time of the eruption, 47 people were on Whakaari/White Island, which is about 141 miles southeast of Auckland.
According to the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), two people are still unaccounted for, “14 people remain in hospital across New Zealand,” and “13 people have been transferred to Australia.”
Videos of the moments following the eruption have been shared on social media:
— Diego Lopes Tareszkiewicz (@DTareszkiewicz) December 9, 2019
Immediately after the volcanic eruption, the New Zealand police established a “no-fly zone” around the island, and advised those within the impact area to protect themselves from “ashfall” by remaining inside and closing all doors and windows. They also advised wearing masks and goggles if outside.
On Friday, officials were able to recover six of the deceased from on the island.
On Saturday, the Police Dive Squad and other water rescue authorities continued to search for a body they believe to be in the water near the island. Unfortunately, visibility is very low (between zero to six feet) and the conditions hazardous.
Deputy Commissioner John Tims said the following in a news release on Saturday:
The water around the island is contaminated, requiring the divers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, including using specialist protective equipment. Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water. Each time they surface, the divers are decontaminated using fresh water.
Also on Saturday, GeoNet released an assessment claiming that there was a 35% to 50% chance of another “eruption occurring that could impact outside of the vent area within the next 24 hours.” This estimate was lowered from the previous one released the day before.
On Sunday morning local time, the recovery effort rolled forward with “two teams of four Search and Rescue and Disaster Victim Identification staff” being helicoptered to the island in order to attempt to recover the remaining bodies. Due to hazardous air quality, the maximum time the staff could remain on the island is an hour and fifteen minutes.
The work to identify the deceased is ongoing. Only one name has been publicly released by authorities, and that is 21-year-old Krystal Eve Browitt of Australia.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has passed on her condolences to the Australians involved in the White Island volcano tragedy. Ali Donaldson reports live from the Bay of Plenty with the latest. pic.twitter.com/zTcWZlUIjC
— 10 News First Sydney (@10NewsFirstSyd) December 13, 2019
According to the New Zealand government’s official website, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that at 2:11 p.m. local time on Monday, a “minute of silence” will be held in remembrance of the eruption victims.
“Wherever you are in New Zealand, or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy,” Areden stated. “Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt, and our support for their grieving families and friends.”
As for the injured, many of whom have suffered severe burns, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the nation is seeking 186,000 square inches of skin for grafts, reports Reuters.
186,000 square inches of skin are being sent to New Zealand to help treat burn victims of the White Island volcano that killed eight people, with eight more missing and presumed dead https://t.co/FCtVVpkDKE pic.twitter.com/CtXcW1Ce5i
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 12, 2019
NPR reports that of the 47 individuals on the island at the time of the volcanic eruption, nine were from the United States.