Nash defends police response to Whakaari / White Island eruption

11:21 pm on 10 December 2019

Police Minister Stuart Nash has defended the police decision not to mount a rescue operation at Whakaari / White Island and says he's confident they did everything they could.

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Stuart Nash said he was confident police were doing all they could. Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

He has also rejected comparisons to the Pike River disaster response, saying that's "very unfair".

Police have yet to visit the island since yesterday's eruption, saying they're waiting on expert advice as to when it is safe for them to send a recovery team.

Six people have been confirmed dead and eight are presumed dead because they are still unaccounted for. Thirty one people were rescued by independent helicopters and boat operators in the immediate aftermath.

The brother of one of the victims criticised the police response, telling media it was like the Pike River disaster, in which, nine years on, the bodies of the 29 dead have yet to be recovered.

Mr Nash said he was confident the police were doing all they could considering the "extremely dangerous situation".

"Keeping in mind, we are dealing with a volcano here," he told reporters.

"The police are waiting for scientific and technical information before they make any decisions about going on to the island and recovering victims."

Read more on the Whakaari/White Island eruption:

Speaking at Parliament, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those involved in the initial rescue had informed police there were no more survivors.

"All of the information provided to police by those operators, who were on the ground pulling survivors off the island, was that there was no one left to rescue.

"Indeed I spoke personally to one of the helicopter operators who was on the island in the immediate aftermath," Ms Ardern said. "He confirmed again that tragically everyone who was alive and survived was taken off the island."

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said questions about how the police operation had been conducted were "seriously premature".

"What's our number one focus? It's to see we get all the attention and care to the victims here and wider families of those involved," Mr Peters said,

"We will get to the bottom of it at the time when we properly can," he said.

National leader Simon Bridges said the police explanation seemed "reasonable", but it was "understandable" that the families of the victims would have questions.

He said, however, those questions were for another day: "For now, it's about recovery".