A massive volcanic eruption has taken place on New Zealand‘s White Island this week, and has taken the lives of at least 5 people, with many more casualties feared to be discovered in the days ahead.
Police and rescue reporters have announced that they have called off search and rescue missions in the region, as they have not seen any signs of life in their recent surveys of the area.
At least 30 people have been wounded in the disaster thus far, and they are currently being treated at nearby hospitals and pop-up medical centers. Most of the victims are suffering from very serious burns on large portions of their bodies.
During a press conference on Tuesday morning, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that there were two separate groups sightseeing and studying on the island when it erupted.
“We can confirm that among those currently listed as missing or injured are New Zealanders who were part of the tour operation, and tourists from Australia, the United States, the UK, China, and Malaysia. That is to the best of our knowledge,” the Prime Minister said.
It is estimated that only 50 people were there at the time of the eruption, but many of them are still unaccounted for. The island is not a heavily populated place, and no one actually lives there full time, but many visitors come each year.
“The police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption. No signs of life have been seen at any point,” a statement from police said.
Video of the eruption of the Whakaari/White Island Volcano in New Zealand.This was vision captured by Michael Schade who had been on the island only 20 minutes earlier with his family and a tour group. Up to 50 people may have been on the island at the time, a number of people are unaccounted for.
Posted by The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, December 8, 2019
Experts have been warning tourists about the possibility of a massive eruption at the site for years. Just three years ago there was another eruption on the island, but it continued to be a hotspot for tourists despite the obvious dangers.
Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, wrote in a statement for the Australian Science Media Centre, that the island was a “disaster waiting to happen for many years.”
Cas said that he visited the island himself twice, and has always felt that it was too dangerous to allow daily tour groups to make regular visits.
While the volcano on the island has erupted many times before, this is the first deadly eruption in over 100 years, since 1914. According to toGeoNet, the longest historic eruption episode was from 1975-2000. During that time, many collapses and explosion craters developed.
Aside from the tourists who visit on a regular basis, the island is uninhabited and is located roughly 50km off the coast of North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty.
However, many generations ago there were people who lived and worked on the island, mining resources like gunpowder and sulfur. The island is privately owned by the Buttle Family Trust. It was bought by George Raymond Buttle, a stockbroker in 1936.
Buttle later refused to sell it to the government, but agreed in 1952 that it be declared a private scenic reserve.
The island itself would not actually be there if it was not for the volcano, as it has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. The island is also sometimes called Whakaari, and it is the most active volcanic site in New Zealand.