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'No Signs of Life' on Island After Volcano Eruption

5 confirmed dead, but 8 others still missing
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2019 2:44 PM CST

(Newser) – Five people are confirmed dead, but eight people are still missing after a New Zealand volcano erupted Monday, and national police said early Tuesday (local time) that reconnaissance flights over White Island found "no signs of life at any point." "Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation,” authorities said in a statement. "Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island." More of the latest:

  • Ominous quote: The parents of a Virginia woman who was on the island when the volcano erupted told their story to the Washington Post. Lauren Urey, 32, was on a Royal Caribbean cruise for her honeymoon with new husband Matthew and called her parents excited about their trip to the island. "She said they were going to the volcano," Urey's mother says. "My husband was joking around and said, ‘I hope it’s not a live volcano.'" Their daughter said it was, but that the couple, who ended up in the hospital with severe burn injuries, "weren't concerned that there was any chance of an eruption," her mom says. Per WTVR, Urey ended up with burns to about 25% of her body; her husband, about 80%.

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  • The toll: There were 47 people on the island when the volcano erupted, 38 of them from the aforementioned cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas, the New Zealand Herald reports. Along with the five bodies, 34 injured people were evacuated from the island via boat or helicopter and 31 of them remain hospitalized. The eight missing people are presumed dead, and some of the injured may not survive; some are said to have burns to as much as 90% of their bodies. Those on the island hailed from New Zealand, Australia, the UK, China, Malaysia, and the US.
  • Video: Many videos show the moment of eruption or soon after; the ensuing thick clouds of ash went about 12,000 feet into the air and appeared to consume the entire island. Photos also show people walking near the volcano's crater rim shortly before the eruption.
  • Tourist destination: White Island is privately owned and uninhabited but is a popular tourist destination that bills itself as "New Zealand’s most active volcano," and in the wake of the tragedy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it "a very unpredictable volcano." Access to the island is controlled through permits, and it's up to tour operators whether to bring visitors there.
  • Were there signs? But Urey's parents tell the Post that in the weeks prior to Monday's eruption, experts had noted increased levels of volcanic activity on the island. "My son-in-law never would have booked the excursion if he knew there was any chance of them being injured," Urey's mother says. The paper notes that one agency had been issuing reports of "volcanic unrest" on the island since late October, and the BBC reports it has been "erupting in some form since 2011."
  • But: A volcanologist tells the AP the alert level was often raised, then lowered with no eruption having taken place. And another expert adds of Monday's eruption, "In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large. But if you were close to that, it is not good."
  • Continued danger: Police and rescuers were having a hard time reaching the island due to what authorities say are continued "hazardous" conditions "in the immediate vicinity of the volcano." Plumes of smoke and ash are still rising above the volcano, and more eruptions are possible.
  • Cone volcano: The White Island Volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, is New Zealand's most active cone volcano. USA Today explains more about that type of volcano as well as the history of eruptions on Whakaari.
(Read more volcano eruption stories.)

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