By Cailey Rizzo
December 09, 2019
According to police, at least five people have died in the volcanic eruption at around 2:11 pm local time on 09 December. The island is located around 40km offshore of the Bay of Plenty.
MICHAEL SCHADE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The number of deaths from the volcano eruption in New Zealand on Monday may continue to climb as emergency workers have not been able to search on the island where the fatal incident took place.

Six deaths were confirmed after Monday’s eruption of the White Island volcano. Five people died at the time of the blast or soon after, while a sixth person died Tuesday night at an Auckland hospital. Dozens of people survived the explosion by running into the sea for relief from burns and hot ash, according to The Associated Press.

“It is now clear there were two groups on the island,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern​ said at a press conference Tuesday. “Those who were able to be evacuated, and those who were close to the eruption.”

An image provided by visitor shows tourists and tour guides fleeing White Island (Whakaari) volcano, as it erupts, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 09 December 2019.
MICHAEL SCHADE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; NEW ZEALAND POLICE HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
MICHAEL SCHADE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Police believe there were a total of 47 people on the island at the time of the explosion. Tour groups who were in boats nearby acted as first responders for survivors, cutting them out of their clothes and pouring fresh water on their burns. The survivors were flown to burn units around the country.

One tourist documented the horrifying incident in a Twitter thread, explaining that he and his family left the island right before the eruption.

"My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it," he wrote adding, "boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable."

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, police believed there would be no survivors on White Island. They saw no signs of life during a helicopter flyover. and at least eight people are still missing, according to authorities.

A number of locals and tourists were on White Island at the time of the explosion. At least 24 Australian visitors were touring the island, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday. There were also nine Americans, five New Zealanders and others from Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers onboard the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

The first victim who died at the hospital was Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide with New Zealand's White Island Tours.

New Zealand police launched a rescue mission using helicopters and drones as the island was still too dangerous for rescuers to land.

"They're just trying to figure out how they can get the helicopters in,” a spokesperson for the rescue told The Sydney Morning Herald. “And how close we can get without it being very unsafe for our crew.”

An evacuation just before the explosion brought 23 people off the island, some of whom were hospitalized.

The island is uninhabited but visited by an estimated 10,000 tourists every year. The volcano, called Whakaari, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring system had registered moderate volcanic unrest in the weeks before the explosion.

A webcam showed that a group of tourists were inside the crater just moments before the eruption.

Many are questioning why tourists were allowed on the island when seismic monitors had raised the volcano’s alert level last month. “These questions must be asked and they must be answered,” Prime Minister Ardern said in Parliament on Tuesday.

"On the morning (the volcanic activity) was level 2, we had no indication of this event occurring," Paul Quinn, chairman of White Island Tours, told CNN. "There was nothing that signaled there was going to be an eruption."

Most of the survivors have burns covering at least 30 percent of their bodies, according to CNN. "It's possible that not all patients will survive," Ministry of Health spokesperson Pete Watson said Tuesday. The injured range in age from 13 to 72.

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