Death toll from New Zealand volcano rises to 20, with 2 bodies still missing

insider@insider.com (Rosie Perper,Sahar Esfandiari)
rescue mission new zealand volcano

New Zealand Defense Forces

  • The New Zealand police on Monday confirmed that another person had died from injuries sustained after one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes erupted on December 9.
  • The death toll from the incident has risen to 20, including two people whose bodies have not been found.
  • The New Zealand police on December 24 called off the search for the two missing people, who are presumed dead.
  • Dozens more remain in the hospital with serious burns and injuries.
  • New Zealand's geological monitoring agency, GeoNet, said the eruption began at about 2:11 p.m. local time on Whakaari, also known as White Island, a popular tourist spot that features an active volcano.
  • The police released the nationalities of 47 people who were on the island when the volcano erupted: 24 Australians, two Chinese nationals, four Germans, one Malaysian national, five New Zealanders, two people from the UK, and nine people from the US.
  • The police say it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation on the circumstances that allowed large numbers of people to visit the volcano before its eruption.
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The New Zealand police on Monday confirmed that another person had died from injuries sustained after one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes erupted on December 9, raising the death toll from the incident to 20, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered.

The police called off the search for the two missing people on December 24. They are presumed dead.

Authorities have been able to recover the bodies of six people.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims said in a statement on Monday that 16 people died in New Zealand and two died after being evacuated to Australia.

The police conducted an extensive aerial search in the weeks following the eruption.

"Sadly no further items of significance have been located," they said in a statement.

"Police remain ready to respond if new information comes to light."

Divers had planned to continue their mission to rescue the remaining two bodies, though the police said the retrieval efforts were "difficult."

"While it is most likely that the two remaining bodies are in the water, we need to be sure," the police said.

rescue mission ash

New Zealand Police

Dozens of people remain in hospitals in Australia and New Zealand with severe burns, and the police previously said that identifying the victims would be a "complex matter." About 186,000 square inches of skin were brought in to treat people with burns.

The police previously released the nationalities of 47 people who were on the island when the volcano erupted. They were 24 Australians, two Chinese nationals, four Germans, one Malaysian national, five New Zealanders, two people from the UK, and nine people from the US.

rescue mission map

New Zealand Police

The eruption occurred at Whakaari, also known as White Island, a popular tourist spot located about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from the east coast of country's North Island.

White Island map

Screenshop/Google Maps

According to New Zealand's geological monitoring agency, GeoNet, the unexpected eruption began at about 2:11 p.m. local time on December 9 and sent ash plumes 12,000 feet into the air.

The police previously said "no signs of life have been seen at any point" by helicopters and rescue aircraft flying over the Island.

GNS Science, New Zealand's geoscience agency, previously said the volcano was producing "vigorous steaming and localized mud jetting in several of the craters created by the eruption," which it interpreted as signs of continued high gas pressures within the volcano.

The police released the identities of some of the people who died in the disaster. Among them were Matthew Hollander, 13, and his brother Berend Hollander, 16, both US citizens with Australian permanent residency.

The two boys attended Knox Grammar School in Sydney, The Guardian reported. The brothers were born in the US and moved from Chicago to Australia six years ago, ABC News reported.

The police announced that Martin Hollander, 48, the father of the two boys, was also killed.

Also named were Jessica Richards, 20; Jason Griffiths, 33; Kristine Langford, 45; and Karla Mathews, 32. They were all Australian citizens.

Whakaari, White Island

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images via Getty Images

The police added that it was too early to confirm whether there would also be a criminal investigation on the circumstances that allowed large numbers of people to visit the volcano before its eruption.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed her condolences for those affected at a press conference shortly after the incident.

"This is a volcano that has been visited for the better part of 30 years," he said. "However, we also hear, and absolutely agree, that there are questions that are being asked that must be answered and they will be."

According to GNS Science, White Island has been New Zealand's "most continuously active volcano" for the past 40 years.

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