Recovery efforts on New Zealand’s White Island are being hampered by increased seismic activity, police said, as the geological agency warned that another eruption could happen within the next 24 hours.
Six people are so far known to have died following Monday’s (December 9) volcano eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari. Thirty people were injured and are currently receiving treatment in hospital with 25 of them in a critical condition.
Police said on Wednesday that nine people are officially listed as missing, seven of them Australians and two New Zealanders. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned on Tuesday that reconnaissance flights over the island had shown “no signs of life”.
Recovery efforts on the island have however been halted following advice from the country’s geological agency, GeoNet.
“Our interpretation of all our monitoring data to date, including yesterday’s gas flight is that shallow magma within the volcano is driving the tremor, gas flux, and jetting activity observed in the craters created during the eruption,” GeoNet said in its latest bulletin.
“Earlier today we conducted an expert judgement and the result is that there is a medium likelihood (40-60% chance) of a future eruption within the next 24 hours,” it added.
Police said that retrieving the bodies from the island is an “absolute priority” and that specialists are on stand-by, “ready to be deployed.”
“This is a skilled role that must be undertaken with the utmost care and consideration,” police explained in a statement.
“Police is required to follow the international process for disaster victim identification – including the formal examination and documentation of bodies at the scene to ensure they are correctly identified and all the necessary information is gathered for subsequent investigations.
“Those deploying to the island will likely encounter serious physical and chemical hazards, for which we must be prepared,” it added.