New Zealand eruption: Police launch investigation after volcano kills at least six and leaves dozens more injured
Police have launched a health and safety investigation into the deaths of at least six people after a volcanic eruption in New Zealand.
Officers launched the probe after an explosion on White Island killed six, left 30 injured and eight others missing and presumed dead on Monday.
Questions have now been raised as to why they were allowed onto the island after geologists had noticed volcanic activity.
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There are no more signs of life on the volcanic island, also known as Whakaari, top officials said after the eruption.
More than two dozen of the injured suffered massive burns across up to 71 per cent of their bodies and could yet die of their wounds, said Peter Watson, the government’s chief medical officer.
Police said 47 people were on the uninhabited island at the time of the eruption – 24 from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the UK and one from Malaysia.
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, told New Zealand’s parliament: “The scale of this tragedy is devastating.”
Police officers are now preparing to conduct drone flights over Whakaari to scout the island in advance of manned landings.
“We understand people’s desire to recover their loved ones and we are working around the clock to get onto the island so we can recover them as soon as possible,” a statement read.
Officers added: “At this time police are investigating the death of the individuals on Whakaari/White Island on behalf of the coroner.
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“To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.
“WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the eruption.
“As the workplace health and safety regulator and administrator of the adventure activities regulations, WorkSafe will be investigating and considering all of the relevant work health and safety issues surrounding this tragic event.”
Ms Ardern has said the government will also investigate how tourist excursions to the volcano were allowed to take place, as geologists said “heightened activity” had been observed on Whakaari recently.
“There will be bigger questions in relation to this event. These questions must be asked and they must be answered,” she said.
Drexel University volcanologist Loyc Vanderkluysen said on Monday: “I have to say that I’m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity.”
Jessica Johnson, a geophysics lecturer at the University of East Anglia, added: “The eruption was unfortunate but not completely unexpected.”