White Island volcano: New volcanic activity hampers recovery efforts

Matthew and Lauren Urey

At a news conference in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians are believed to be among the five people confirmed dead. Numerous injured suffered severe burns.

Whether the island will ever host tourists again remains uncertain after the horrific tragedy that unfolded when the volcano exploded a little after 2 p.m. Monday.

But Australia's prime minister has said three Australians are suspected of being among the confirmed deaths, leaving Australian families frantic for news of who they might be.

Details are scarce because conditions on the island are too risky for officials to return and disaster victim identification experts have only begun their work.

Why is the recovery delayed?

"Since around 4:00 am this morning the level of volcanic tremor has significantly increased at the island", geological agency GeoNet said in a Wednesday statement.

Authorities monitoring the uninhabited island said conditions were worsening and there was now a 40-60% chance of a massive eruption similar to Monday in the next 24 hours.

It also said there was a low risk to the mainland. "And the parameters are worsening at the moment".

The release of the names will end the traumatic wait for further information, although police have made contract with the families of all 47 people on White Island during the catastrophic eruption.

But police said the latest seismologist update meant recovery teams had no choice but to wait. The bodies of eight other people are believed to remain on the ash-covered island.

What state are the injured in?

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The White Island volcano, a well-known tourist and scientific attraction, has been emitting volcanic gas and smoke for decades, if not centuries. At least 47 visitors from around the world were on the volcano crater at the time of two explosions in quick succession.

Nash said reconnaissance flights had determined soon after survivors fled the initial blast that there was no one alive on the island.

The two left for New Zealand last Monday and were due home this weekend.

Pete Watson, Ministry of Health spokesman, said of those injured, 27 suffered from greater than 30 percent total body surface burns and many of them have inhalation burns that require airway support. "Even though this is such a great place, should we be allowing people to go in such large numbers?"

Several patients will be transferred to Australia by the Australian Defence Force using an intensive-care acceptable aircraft in the next 24-48 hours, Dr Watson said. "We knew this lovely lady - and whilst our paths had not crossed regularly in recent years, her spirit and innate goodness permeates our memories and underlines our grief", Megan Braithwaite wrote on Facebook.

New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ring of Hearth, a belt of volcanic and seismic exercise that rings the Pacific Ocean.

But some identities have been revealed by relatives and the media.

The first confirmed death was of a local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide who had shown tourists around the island.

The second person confirmed to have died is from Malaysia, the country's High Commission said.

Australians Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica have been named by police as two of those killed in the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

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