There is a high chance New Zealand’s White Island volcano could erupt again within the next 24 hours, volcanologists have warned, further disrupting efforts to recover the bodies of eight missing people who are believed to have died in an eruption earlier this week.
Recovery efforts have been hampered since the eruption on Monday afternoon, with police describing the island as too dangerous. On Wednesday, geological hazard monitoring group GeoNet said volcanic tremors had “significantly increased” on White Island, which is also known as Whakaari.
On Wednesday morning local time, GeoNet volcanologist Brad Scott told CNN that they had a “high expectation” that there would be another eruption in the next 24 hours – and it was likely to be either similar sized or smaller than Monday’s eruption.
“This morning, we were hopeful we could recover bodies. However this has not been possible due to conditions on the island,” Civil Defence Emergency Management Director Sarah Stuart-Black said at a press conference Wednesday. “Right now, the science tells us (the risk) is just too high.”
Forty-seven people were on White Island – an active volcano around 48 kilometers (30 miles) off the east coast of the country’s North Island – when it erupted on Monday. Of those rescued, six people have since been confirmed dead, while 25 are in hospital in a critical condition. Many survivors suffered extensive burns to their bodies and lungs. Every burns unit in the country is at full capacity.
The people on the island were from a number of different countries, including Australia, the United States and Germany.
Monday’s eruption coated the island in a thick layer of ash and scattered rocks. If White Island erupted again, it could deposit a fresh layer of ash and ballistic rocks, Scott said.
The island’s alert level is at three out of five, meaning that a minor local eruption is occurring. When the island erupted on Monday, it was under a level 2 alert.
There has also been “vigorous steaming” and mud jetting out from several craters created by the eruption, GeoNet duty volcanologist Craig Miller said. Two large plumes were spotted above the island, which is New Zealand’s most active volcano.
What another eruption could mean
In the short term, the threat of another eruption could hamper authorities’ ability to go to the island. But it could also make it harder for them to find and repatriate the bodies of those who are presumed dead.
If it rains, a fresh layer of ash across the island would solidify and become the island’s new ground surface, Scott said.