New Zealand police defended delays in recovering bodies from the White Island volcano Wednesday, saying it would be “madness” to rush into a landing on the still-smouldering disaster zone. A volcano on a New Zealand island erupted Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam as tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing several people and leaving perhaps two dozen others missing.
A total of 47 day-trippers were on the island when the blast occurred, and many survivors suffered serious burns.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said he understood the frustration of family members who wanted their loved ones’ remains returned but said recovery teams had no choice but to wait.
Nash said seismologists had predicted there was a 50 per cent chance of another eruption on the island, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea.
On Tuesday, New Zealand police announced a criminal investigation into how an eruption at the White Island volcano led to an estimated 13 deaths. "I can confirm now that we will commence a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the death and injuries on White Island," deputy commissioner John Tims told reporters in the wake of Monday's disaster.
Fewer than 50 people were on the island when it erupted, and 23 had been taken off, including the five dead, he said. Tims said there had been no contact with any of the missing. He said New Zealanders and foreign tourists were among the dead, missing or injured.
Most of the 18 who survived were injured, some suffering severe burns, he said. Some of the visitors 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 said.
The ship had left Sydney last week and had been scheduled to sail to the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Monday night, but Royal Caribbean said it would instead remain in port on neighbouring North Island until more was learned about the situation.