By Cailey Rizzo
December 11, 2019

As six people are confirmed dead and 25 critically injured, many are questioning why tourists were allowed on New Zealand’s White Island when it erupted on Monday.

White Island has long been marketed as New Zealand’s most active volcano where tourists come from all over the world to see the peak featured in the “Lord of the Rings” films. As they climb the mountain and peer into its bubbling lava center, they only see a small portion of what’s actually there. About 70 percent of the powerful volcano is underwater.

Authorities at the site of the New Zealand volcano
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Tourists also pass steaming gas vents and crater lakes filled with near-boiling water.

“That tells you there’s a source of heat under the volcano that is constantly supplying hot gasses and heating up fluids under the molten rock or magma,” Ray Cas, a volcanologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told the New York Times. “Basically you have this hot cooker system at constant high temperature and high pressure that could explode at any time.”

And now, after the eruption, people are questioning the safety of tours to such places.

“It’s a fair question to ask whether anyone should be allowed in an active crater at any given time,” Jozua van Otterloo, a volcanologist at Monash University, told the New York Times. “In hindsight, it was an accident waiting to happen.”

White Island Tours, which brought most of the visitors to the island on Monday, was named one of the safest places in New Zealand to work earlier this year, according to a local news outlet.

The incident raises safety questions around volcano visitation and monitoring procedures. The tour happened while White Island was under a “Level 2” volcanic alert. Although the scale goes up to Level 5, 2 is the highest warning level for a volcano before it explodes. A Level 3 means a minor eruption has already occurred.

Meanwhile, the island is still too dangerous for rescue teams to land and continue the search for missing persons presumed dead.

The survivors of the explosion are in hospitals around New Zealand. They are undergoing treatment that requires massive amounts of skin grafts.

"We currently have (skin) supply, but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts," Peter Watson of the District Health Boards told CNN. "This is just the start of a very long process that, for some patients, will take several months.”

It is unclear whether or not the government will open a criminal investigation.

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