White Island, New Zealand | Picture credit: pixabay.com
According to a New Zealand Police update, reconnaissance flights conducted over White Island volcano have not revealed any survivors. Police believe that anyone who could have been found alive has already been evacuated.
This news comes shortly after it was reported that the White Island volcano had been showing signs of “increased activity” in the weeks before its eruption.
According to the science agency GeoNet, an alert indicating the possibility of a “moderate volcanic eruption” was issued for the volcano in the weeks leading up to the eruption which has killed five people so far. The alert was a level four on a scale that runs from zero to five, five signifying a severe eruption.
Brad Scott, a volcanologist at GeoNet, said the eruption “wasn’t completely unexpected.”
“Volcanic unrest has been occurring at White Island for several weeks now, so it’s not a total surprise that this has led to a total eruption. We have alluded to this possibility for some time.”
In October this year, New Zealand news media company Stuff reported that the levels of sulfur dioxide (a gas generated by magma) on White Island were the highest since 2016, indicating an eruption was likely. Scientists use these gas measurements to understand what is happening within the volcano.
Dr Ken Glairdhill of GNS Science, a New Zealand research institute, stated this particular eruption was not a big one but: “almost like a throat-clearing eruption.”
Location of White Island, New Zealand | Picture credit: BBC
The volcano, also known locally as Whakaari, erupted about 50 kilometres off the coast of New Zealand in the early afternoon of December 9th. According to police, there were fewer than 50 people on the island at the time of the eruption, both local and foreign tourists according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The eruption killed five and critically injured seven. It is unknown how many people were wounded in total, or how many people remain to be rescued.
St John New Zealand, an organisation that provides ambulance services, worked together with the coast guard to send in seven helicopters to the island, and managed to treat 20 people. Twenty-three visitors to the island have been rescued thus far.
One visitor to the island, Michael Schade, visited the island on a morning tour and left just 30 minutes before the eruption. He was on the boat returning to the mainland when the event unfolded.
He said: “The boat turned back and we grabbed some people that were waiting on the pier.”
Most injuries were likely caused by burns and rocks thrown from the volcano during the eruption. MetService, New Zealand’s meteorological service, issued warnings about the quantity of ash in the area, and local police warned people in the affected area to stay indoors and shut their windows. It is unlikely that residents on the mainland will suffer from any adverse health effects.
The volcano on White Island has had previous eruptions in 2016, 2013 and 2012. This eruption is the latest in a series of natural disasters occurring in Australasia, following the bushfires that erupted across Australia.
Authorities say it’s unlikely another eruption will occur as they are usually followed by a period of calm, but they urge caution anyway as they still cannot be entirely certain.