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Families of British tourists are searching for information about their loved ones feared to have been caught up in a volcanic eruption that is believed to have killed 13 people.
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, confirmed that British citizens were among the missing and injured after the volcano on White Island spewed a large plume of ash and steam 12,000 feet (3,660 metres) into the air on Monday.
There were 47 people exploring the country's most active volcano at the time of the eruption. Five have been confirmed dead and eight are still missing feared dead, the police confirmed.
A number of reconnaissance flights have flown over the island and “no signs of life have been seen at any point”, Ms Ardern told a press conference.
She praised the “courageous decision” made by the first responders to go out in “extraordinarily dangerous circumstance” in order to rescue a group of tourists.
But she said that it was now clear that there had been two groups on the island, those who were rescued and a second group closer to the explosion.
Of those rescued, 31 remain in hospital and three have been discharged, it was said.
At least five families from the UK were searching for information on a site for the missing set up by the Red Cross yesterday.
Ms Ardern said: “We can confirm that amongst those currently listed as missing or injured are New Zealanders who were part of the tour operation and tourists from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteislandpic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends we share in your unfathomable grief at this moment in time and your sorrow.
“Your loved ones stood alongside Kiwis who were hosting you here and we grieve with you and we grieve with them.”
Laura Clarke, the UK High Commissioner to New Zealand, confirmed that her team were supporting the families of two British women who were in hospital in New Zealand.
Hayden Marshall-Inman, an experienced guide for White Island Tours, was the first to be named among the dead.
His brother Mark Inman confirmed his death on social media, writing: "Friends and family, very sad news this evening. My bro Hayden Marshall-Inman has past away doing the one thing he loved."
The active volcano is a tourist hotspot but has erupted several times before, most recently in 2016 and during the 2012/13 period.
The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, raised the alert level on White Island from one to two on November 18, noting an increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano.
What we know so far
- Five people confirmed dead
- British citizens among those missing and injured
- At least 31 treated for injuries
- At least eight people remain missing
- No sign of life detected by helicopter
- Island too dangerous for rescue attempts
- Volcano erupted just after 2.10pm local time
- Ash plume reached 12,000ft (3,657m)
- White Island is New Zealand's most active volcano
It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, the volcanic tremor had increased from weak to moderate strength.
Several people had been seen walking inside the rim of the volcano minutes before the eruption.
At first light on Tuesday morning local time it was still too dangerous for authorities to send rescue crews onto the island, which is in the Bay of Plenty 30 miles off the east coast of New Zealand's North Island.
New Zealand Police said that they believe “anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation”.
Michael Schade, who was on board a boat leaving the island after a morning tour, filmed a wall of ash and steam and a helicopter badly damaged just after the volcano erupted.
"My god," he wrote on social media. "My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable."
It is understood that between 30 to 38 people were visitors from the Standing Ovation cruise ship from the Royal Caribbean company and at least 20 of the cruise guests on the island at the time of the eruption are from Australia.
"Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Professor Mike Burton, Chair in Volcanology at the University of Manchester, told The Telegraph that one of the major challenges in visiting an active volcano like White Island is that “even a small explosion can be quite hazardous because people are standing in a position which is very close to where the eruptions can occur”.
Those are some of the people put boat picked up. Praying for them and their recovery. Woman my mom tended to was in critical condition but seemed strong by the end.— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
The helicopters on the island looked destroyed: pic.twitter.com/jds5QBD1yg
Professor Burton said a key question is “to either restrict access completely or not”.
“Approximately 10,000 people have visited White Island every year and so it is a very popular destination and a fascinating place to visit. Local volcano monitoring by GNS had detected signs of increased SO2 degassing prior to the eruption, but this can also occur without producing explosions,” he said.
While there are many historically volcanic regions in New Zealand, since the 1850s volcanic activity in the country has been in only two zones, the Taupo Volcanic Zone – where White Island is located, and the Kermadec Arc.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson tweeted his condolences for the victims of the eruption.
"Devastating scenes in New Zealand. I’ve been in contact with Prime Minister @jacindaardern to express our deepest sympathies. There are many people still feared missing, and my heart goes out to all those affected and their families." he said.