White Island eruption: 'No signs of life' as fears mount death toll will increase


Police say there are 'no signs of life' on White Island and they believe anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of Monday's evacuation.

Five people have been confirmed dead and eight are still missing, presumed killed. Thirty-one people are in seven hospitals with a range of injuries following the instant eruption of the island volcano at 2.11pm.

"The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption," police said in a statement early Tuesday.

"No signs of life have been seen at any point.

"Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island."

Photo / George Novak

It's believed many tourists on the island on Monday were from a cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas.

A volcanologist has described the quick-fire type of eruption at White Island today as "basically instantaneous".

"One minute nothing's happening, next minute, it's all happening," GNS Science's Brad Scott said.

At about 2.11pm, the eruption fired a plume of ash 3.6km above the vent of the offshore Bay of Plenty volcano.

The island's crater floor was littered with ash, which continued to fall on the island - but only a minor amount of the material was expected to reach the East Cape over the next few hours.

Monitoring showed there had been no signs of further eruption.

But Scott said it would be difficult to predict what happened next at the famously furious volcano, which was now officially in an eruptive episode.

"After a period of unrest, there's always the likelihood of eruption – but there's a lot of uncertainty about that."

Scientists would be keeping a close eye on monitoring parameters, he said.

This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.