New Zealand: Two British women injured in hospital as five killed after volcanic island erupts

British nationals are among those missing or injured after a volcanic island in New Zealand erupted, killing at least five people.

Monday, 9th December 2019, 7:52 pm

More than 30 others have been hurt and some remain in a critical condition.

Two British women are in hospital after being injured in the volcanic eruption, the UK High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke has said.

Ms Clarke said in a tweet tonight: "We are supporting the family of two British women who have been hospitalised in New Zealand.

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"My team are deploying to offer assistance in person and we remain in close contact with New Zealand authorities."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that 47 people travelled to White Island today.

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As well as the five people who lost their lives, eight are still missing, including at least one UK citizen.

The site on White Island was still too dangerous hours later for police and rescuers to search for the missing.

A total of 31 people are still in hospital and another three have been discharged, Ms Ardern said.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday morning local time, Ms Ardern said New Zealanders, as well as tourists from the UK, US, Australia, China and Malaysia, are among the missing and injured.

She said: "To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief at this moment in time and in your sorrow.

"Your loved ones stood alongside Kiwis who are hosting you here and we grieve with you and we grieve with them."

Police deputy commissioner John Tims said the number of those who remained missing was in double figures but he could not confirm an exact number.

A missing persons list which aims to reunite concerned family members with their loved ones shows up to five people with a UK birthplace still unaccounted for.

White Island erupted with a large plume of ash and steam today while dozens of people were exploring New Zealand's most active volcano.

Aerial footage showed "no signs of life" on the island following the eruption, according to New Zealand police, who said they do not expect to find any more survivors.

A spokesman for the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said they were seeking further information.

He said: "We are in close contact with the New Zealand authorities following the volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island and are seeking further information."

Rescue teams were unable to access the island on foot due to unstable conditions hours after the eruption, which occurred shortly after 2pm local time.

The New Zealand Red Cross activated the missing list to allow people to self-register as safe and well, or to register details of a person they have lost contact with.

Information on the list is submitted by members of public.

Angela Sutherland, general manager of disaster risk management at the New Zealand Red Cross, urged anyone worried about friends or family to "first contact them as you normally would".

"Using your own channels can help to speed up the process and helps response agencies as well," she said.

"If you cannot make contact, please register them through our Family Links website."

White Island is in the Bay of Plenty, near the town of Tauranga on North Island.

The active volcano is a tourist hotspot but has erupted several times before, most recently in 2016 and during the 2012/13 period.

Footage posted on social media by tourists in nearby boats showed thick smoke billowing up to 12,000ft in the air as people could be spotted along the shore of the island.

Some of those involved were guests from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

A Royal Caribbean spokesman said: "We are working together with local authorities and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counselling.

"We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible.

"Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as as long as needed to assist with the situation."

The vessel was due to sail to the capital Wellington on Monday night but the company said it would remain in the Tauranga port overnight until it learned more about the situation.

Michael Schade posted video of the eruption on Twitter, saying: "My god. 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."

His video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island and a helicopter badly damaged and covered in ash.

He said one woman was badly injured but seemed "strong" by the end.

White Island sits about 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand.

Already people are questioning why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an increase in volcanic activity.

GeoNet raised the alert level on White Island from one to two on 18 November, noting an increase in the amount of sulphur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano.

It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, the volcanic tremor had increased from weak to moderate strength.

White Island is north east of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand's two main islands.

Police were asking people to avoid areas on the North Island that were close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.

GeoNet said White Island is New Zealand's most active cone volcano and about 70 per cent of the volcano is under the sea.

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulphur.

Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself.

The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction, according to GeoNet.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953 and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.