Whakaari / White Island in 'elevated state of unrest'

1:19 pm on 15 January 2020

Whakaari-White Island still remains in an elevated state of unrest after a major eruption in early December that took the lives of 20 people.

Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The eruption on Monday, 9 December is believed to have killed 20 people after another victim died in an Australian hospital yesterday.

However, the number of confirmed dead remains at 18 with two of the bodies still unaccounted for, believed to have fallen into the sea.

There has not been another eruption since, but GNS Science said very hot gas and steam continued to be discharged from vents created by the eruption.

It said the chance of another eruption was still possible and could happen without notice, but very unlikely on any given day in the next four weeks.

There were minor explosions from the active vents between 8 and 9 January, the institute said, but gas emission rates were within the normal range expected after an eruption.

Temperatures in the vent area were 440C, it said, and the style of any future eruption could be driven by the collapse of unstable material around one of the vents or by a marked decrease in gas emissions allowing water from the reforming crater lake or geothermal system to enter the active hot gas vents.

Sudden steam and gas eruptions from other active vents are also possible.

The alert level remained at two.

GNS said all of its monitoring equipment on the island was operating, including camera feeds.

Police have also confirmed they unsuccessfully tried to recover a body from the water off Whakaari / White Island two days after the eruption.

Police and the New Zealand Defence Force made extensive searches for the missing bodies after recovering the others from the island, but could not find them.

There were reports that one of the bodies had been seen in the water two days after the eruption, and Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement has now confirmed police made an unsuccessful attempt to recover it.

He said the New Zealand Defence Force, on an inflatable boat, had tried to recover the body and an attempt was made to get the body onto a police launch, but due to the sea conditions the attempt was unsuccessful.

He said the police priority was to return all bodies to their families, and they were hugely disappointed that they were unable to recover two of them.

There are currently 13 patients being cared for at hospitals around New Zealand, at Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Waikato, and Christchurch hospitals.

Four of them remain in a critical condition.

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