47 people at White Island at the time of eruption, periodic steam and gas driven jetting continues


Inquiries with tour operators indicate that 47 people were on the island at the time of the eruption. 31 patients are currently being treated at 7 hospitals and three have been treated and discharged. Some of the patients are reportedly in critical condition. 5 people have died and 8 remain unaccounted for. No further eruptions have occurred since yesterday.

"Work is continuing today to enable the recovery of the eight people who remain unaccounted for on Whakaari / White Island following yesterday’s eruption," NZ Police said. "Recovering the remaining victims and returning them to their loved ones is an absolute priority for NZ Police."

Police said it's working with GNS Science to get an understanding of the current environment and the likelihood of any further volcanic activity, as well as any risks posed to recovery teams by gases in the atmosphere.

"This is a heartbreaking situation for all involved and we are working to provide every support possible to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in the eruption."

Although the police announced they'll start a criminal investigation, they've later issued a correction, stating that it's still too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.

Since the eruption at 01:11 UTC (14:11 LT) on December 9, 2019, seismic activity has dropped to low levels and there has been no further eruptive activity. However, localized steam and mud jetting continues from the active vent area. 

Similar activity continued on December 10. Seismic activity remains weak and there has been no further eruptive activity.

"Over the next 24 hours, we still estimate an equal likelihood of either no eruption or a smaller/similar sized eruption that would impact the main crater floor, based on our observations and measurements," GeoNet Duty Volcanologist Geoff Kilgour noted 22:45 UTC yesterday. 

"There is a high level of uncertainty associated with this estimate and we are working to reduce that uncertainty. We also estimate the least likely scenario is a larger eruption. There is an extremely low likelihood of any ash impact to the mainland, but people may smell gas, depending on the prevailing wind direction."

The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 3 and the Aviation Colour Code at Orange.


07:24 UTC, December 11

The death toll has risen to 6 and the number of missing people to 9, NZ Police said. 30 people are still in hospitals. 25 of them are critical with the remainder stable but serious.

White Island: Significantly increased volcanic tremor, new eruptions likely, New Zealand (December 11)

White Island volcano erupts, killing at least 6 people and seriously injuring 25, 9 remain missing (December 9)

Geological summary

Uninhabited 2 x 2.4 km (1.2 x 1.5 miles) White Island, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is the emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km (10 x 11.2 miles) submarine volcano in the Bay of Plenty about 50 km (31 miles) offshore of North Island.

The island consists of two overlapping andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcanoes; the summit crater appears to be breached to the SE, because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Volckner Rocks, four sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km (3.1 miles) NNE. Intermittent moderate phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions have occurred throughout the short historical period beginning in 1826, but its activity also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. Formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries has produced rapid changes in crater floor topography. Collapse of the crater wall in 1914 produced a debris avalanche that buried buildings and workers at a sulfur-mining project. (GVP)

Featured image credit: Michael Shade

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