Police said on Tuesday that 5 of the 23 people taken for rescue from the White Island in New Zealand are dead and they believe there are no more survivors on the island.
“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island. Police are working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died,” police said.
A volcanic eruption began on Monday on White Island at 2:11 p.m. local time.
At 2:10 p.m., just one minute before the eruption, webcam footage showed a line of people walking inside the volcanic crater.
Authorities believe fewer than 50 people were on the island during the volcanic eruption, of which 23 people were rescued.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference on Monday that an active police search and operation is underway, but according to Yahoo News, police announced on Tuesday “no signs of life have been seen at any point,” in their search.
Many of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra.
Norma Lane, St. John Ambulance Director of Operations, told Newstalk ZB that at least seven helicopters headed to the island.
“We’re expecting burns, there could be respiratory issues, there could be head injuries, fractures etc. from rocks or stones, we really don’t know at this stage. This is an incident that is still evolving and we’re still waiting to get the reports from the clinicians on the scene,” Lane said.
Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner said: “I’m not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care,” Turner said. “There were some injuries and the focus is on getting these injured people back safely and to get them to a hospital.”
The NZ Herald reported that many of the visitors were understood to be from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
Port company chief executive Mark Cairns told the outlet that the cruise ship was originally scheduled to depart on Sunday night but was birthed at Tauranga Harbour.
Passengers scheduled to visit White Island would have caught buses to Whakatane to join a transport to the island, he said. Wealthy passengers could have traveled by helicopter.
The ship would not now be leaving Tauranga tonight, Cairns told the Herald.
Dr. Ken Gledhill from New Zealand geoscience consultancy GNS said that the smoke from the eruption went around 40,000 feet in the air.
He added that while it had quietened down, there is a chance of another eruption within the next 24 hours.