New Zealand police say they are launching an investigation in connection with the volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island that killed five tourists Monday.
Deputy Commissioner John Tims told reporters earlier Tuesday that the probe was criminal in nature, but police later issued a statement revising Tims’s announcement. The police investigation is being conducted by alongside a probe by New Zealand’s safety regulator.
The country’s seismic monitoring agency GeoNet raised the volcano’s alert level last month to level two on the five-level scale that monitors its chances of eruption. Still pictures captured by a GeoNet camera showed a group of tourists walking on the crater floor moments before the eruption.
Along with the five confirmed deaths, eight others are missing and presumed dead and at least 31 have been injured. New Zealand chief medical officer
Pete Watson said at least 27 survivors are being treated for burns to more than 71 percent of their bodies.
Authorities say about 47 people were touring the island at the time of the eruption, including 24 Australians, with the rest from the United States, Britain, Germany, China, Malaysia and New Zealand. Some of the victims were passengers from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean.
Conditions on White Island have made it impossible for rescue crews to return to the island to search for any survivors. GeoNet says there is still a 50 percent chance of another eruption within the next day.
“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow, and we are devastated” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday in Parliament. Prime Minister Ardern also praised the pilots who risked their lives to fly to White Island to rescue survivors.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians are feared to be among the five confirmed deaths, while at least 13 were hospitalized.
White Island, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, sits about 50 kilometers northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, attracts about 10,000 visitors every year. It is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, with about 70% of the island under the sea.