White Island Volcano Erupts Off Coast of New Zealand

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A volcano off the coast of New Zealand has erupted. The eruption occurred on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019.

The volcano’s scalding steam injured dozens of tourists who were exploring the “moon-like surface,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Authorities reported that five people were killed by the eruption and many others are missing.

Crews arrived on the volcanic White Island by helicopter despite the danger to help rescue survivors.

Hours after the eruption, the island was still too dangerous for rescuers to be permitted to search for the missing. Aircraft flew overhead and did not see any signs of life, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Among the missing and injured include residents of New Zealand and tourists from the U.S., China, Australia, Malaysia, and Britain.

Michael Schade tweeted as he posted his video of the volcanic eruption: “My god. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”

Schade’s video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island. There was also a badly damaged helicopter covered in ash. He said there was a badly injured woman, but she seemed “strong” by the end of the video.

Immediately, questions were raised as to why people were allowed to visit White Island, 30 miles off the coast of mainland New Zealand. Scientists had noticed an uptick in volcanic activity over the past few weeks. White Island it the tip of an undersea volcano.

According to authorities, there were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption. Thirty-one survivors were hospitalized, and three others have been released. This is in addition to the dead and missing. Authorities said that some of the survivors were severely burned.

The volcano erupted at 2 p.m. and there were two explosions that occurred in quick succession. Steam and ash were sent 12, 000 feet into the air. A boat that returned from the island was carrying a yard deep of ash.

Some of the tourists were passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

“We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers,” the cruise line stated.

The cruise ship left Sydney last week and was scheduled to sail to Wellington on Monday evening, however, Royal Caribbean said the ship would remain in port on North Island until they could learn more about the situation.

The GeoNet agency monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand. The agency had raised an alert on White Island on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on the scale. For this scale, 5 represents a major eruption. There was an increase in sulfur dioxide gas that originates from magma deep in the volcano. Additionally, the agency stated that volcanic tremors increased from a weak to moderate state.

According to Ardern, the focus was on the search-and-rescue mission. Questions about whether tourists should have been visiting White Island will be addressed later.

A volcanologist with GNS Science research group, Brad Scott, stated that is was common for the alert level to be raised and later dropped without a volcanic eruption. According to Scott, there had not been any significant issues with tourists visiting White Island previously, however, there have been some close calls.

Ken Gledhill stated, “In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large. But if you were close to that, it is not good.”

White Island it the most active cone volcano in New Zealand. Seventy percent of the volcano is under the sea.

In 1914, the volcano was being mined for sulfur and 12 people were killed. Part of a crater wall collapsed, and a landslide destroyed the village the miners formed as well as the mine itself.

The remainder of the village from another mining expedition in the 1920s is a tourist attraction. In 1953, White Island became a private scenic reserve, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit annually.

By Jeanette Vietti

Sources:

Los Angeles Times: 5 tourists killed, 8 more feared dead in volcanic eruption off New Zealand
Washington Post: ‘No signs of life’ on New Zealand’s White Island following deadly volcanic eruption
People: N.Z. Volcano Eruption Survivors Suffer Extensive Burns: ‘It’s Possible’ Not All ‘Will Survive’

Image Courtesy of gérard’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

 

 

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