EYEAFRICA TV: Whakatane, New Zealand: A steady stream of mourners laid flowers in the tourist town of Whakatane in New Zealand which has been hit hard by the loss of life and injuries caused by Monday’s volcanic eruption on White Island.
Six people have been confirmed dead so far, and eight others are still missing, presumed dead. Thirty-one people are in seven hospitals and three have been discharged so far, according to the police.
Amongst those currently listed as missing or injured after the eruption are two New Zealanders who were part of tour operations to the island.
“It’s devastating for everybody. It’s just terrible,” said a local resident. “And I feel so sorry for the visitors that have come to enjoy our little town,” said another resident.
For medical teams, there’s now the grim task of identifying the six dead and 31 injured who suffered horrific burns in the eruption.
“I have declared a mass fatality incident which means that a number of agencies are now working together to resolve this tragedy,” said Deborah Marshall, chief coroner.
Thirty eight of the 47 victims came from the Ovation of the Seas which finally departed after a 36-hour delay.
The main focus remains on recovering the eight bodies that remain on White Island which include two Australian families.
Situated 50 kilometers of the east coast, the volcanic activity has suddenly increased and the police are taking no chances.
“We cannot put people in jeopardy to go out there until we’re absolutely certain that the island is actually safe,” said Bruce Bird, acting assistant commissioner.
And the police have played down reports of frustration among the local Maori community wanting to retrieve the bodies of a local tour guide still on the island.
“There is no frustration. They just need to be well informed that everything that is being done by all the services is being carried out to the best of their ability,” said Wally Haumaha, deputy commissioner.
Two official investigations have now been launched into the tragedy, but officials are being positive about the potential impact on New Zealand’s lucrative adventure tourism industry.
Whakatane District Council Mayor Judy Turner said an inquiry in many ways could be a very reassuring thing in terms of the uniqueness of this situation and how unexpected it was.