New Zealand volcano toll reaches 18

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Wellington, Dec 17 (IANS) The death toll due to the eruption of New Zealand’s Whakaari/White Island volcano has increased to 18, after authorities on Tuesday said they have completed the identification process of all the victims, including two missing persons who are presumed dead.

Police released the names of 17 people but didn’t identify one more victim, who died in a hospital in Australia, reports Efe news.

Two of the victims – Winona Langford, a 17-year-old Australian citizen, and local tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40 – remain missing after the eruption on December 9 on the uninhabited Whakaari Island.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims in a statement said the police’s Eagle helicopter searched Taungawaka Bay on Tuesday “for any sign of the two bodies still missing”.

“The weather around the island today (Tuesday) has hampered efforts, preventing an earlier search by Eagle and a shoreline search by boat,” Tims said.

He said that they would “continue to focus on areas from the island through to the East Cape based on tidal patterns and as the weather allows”.

The 17 identified victims comprise two New Zealanders, 12 Australians and three American residents of Australia.

Some 14 people remain hospitalized, most of them in critical condition with severe burns, at a medical centre in New Zealand. Another 12 continue to fight for their lives in Australia.

In total, 47 people — 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian citizen — were on the island when the volcano erupted.

The Whakaari volcano – which was visited by more than 17,500 people in 2018 – erupted as the alert level was two on a scale of five, predicting mild volcanic activity.

Police have opened an investigation to determine responsibility for the casualties, including tour operators who organize trips to the island.

The 321-meter-high Whakaari, 70 per cent of which is below sea level, is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes and is also a much sought after tourist attraction.

Located at the southeastern end of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Whakaari last erupted in 2016 without causing fatalities.

The deadliest incident at the site occurred in 1914 when 10 miners died as a result of a landslide caused by the collapse of part of the volcano’s crater.

–IANS

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