Death toll to rise as police open investigation. New Zealand police say no one still alive on island as health officials say some of 31 burns victims not expected to survive
New Zealand police have launched an investigation into the White Island volcano as further details emerged of the scale of the disaster, in which at least five people died and a further eight are feared to have perished.
“I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island,” New Zealand police deputy commissioner John Tims said in Wellington on Tuesday of those still unaccounted for.
When asked about whether the investigation would focus on tour operators, Tims said: “So we’ll look into if there was anyone criminally responsible for the deaths and injuries. It’s early days yet. So we’re just going to have to work through the evidence, talk to people, and conduct the investigation.”
Police later corrected his statement, saying there would be an investigation for the coroner alongside a health and safety inquiry but that it was too early to tell whether it would be a criminal investigation.
Thirty-one patients were being treated for burns and not all were expected to survive, said Dr Pete Watson from the ministry of health. Twenty-seven have burns to at least 30% of their bodies, he said. “There’s many who have suffered inhalation injuries, damage to lungs, so they’re requiring airway support. At this stage, that’s the majority of the people who are in the hospitals,” Watson said. Patients have been sent to burns units across the country, which were at capacity, and some may be sent to Australia, he said.
The nationalities of those on the island at the time of the explosion were confirmed on Tuesday. Twenty-four were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from the UK, two from China and one from Malaysia.
On Tuesday authorities were still unable to reach the island. Seismic activity had reduced but scientists estimated there was a 50% chance of a smaller or similar sized eruption in the next 24 hours. Web cameras on the island indicated jets of gas and steam were still being released from the area, said GNS science, the government’s research organisation.