White Island eruption: Bodies not found

Police are still hopeful they will find the two remaining bodies on Whakaari/White Island, despite failing to do so on Sunday morning. 

Aerial searches assisted those on the ground, whose breathing apparatus only allowed them to be on the island for 75 minutes. 

Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement says they are not giving up.

"There will come a time when we've done everything that's sensible to do. We're not there yet, and we don't give up easily. There's a whole lot of disappointed people behind me."

The six others on the island were brought back to the mainland on Friday. 

Responders are describing each mission as difficult, both mentally and physically, and dehydration is proving to be a problem.

'Committed to finishing the task'

Police said earlier on Sunday morning two four-strong teams would be taken to the island, but will only be able to stay for up to 75 minutes at a time.

"The Police Eagle Helicopter will be above the island in an operational support capacity, as will the helicopters that dropped off the ground teams," said Deputy Commissioner John Tims.

"A GNS scientist will remain on board Eagle to monitor the environment in real-time. We remain committed to finishing the task at hand and returning the two remaining bodies to their loved ones."

Smoke was still billowing from the crater on Sunday morning.

Frustration growing

There continues to be frustration at how long it took for a plan to recover bodies from Whakaari/White Island. 

Six were retrieved Friday, while the search continues for two more. Fifteen people have been confirmed dead as a result of Monday's eruption. 

Former Mayor Tony Bonne says there has not been enough people asking locals for their advice.

"We have a lot of people coming in from Wellington, and there is a number of people that have a huge amount of knowledge about White Island and its history, and they should be there at the forefront." 

Bonne says lessons should have been learned from previous disasters. 

"We've had enough disasters around New Zealand where people, they should learn from each one and it should get smoother. So that's the only frustration."

The view from Whakatane on Sunday morning.
The view from Whakatane on Sunday morning. Photo credit: GNS

Pride in the locals

Present Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner is expressing pride in the way her community has handled a tragic week. 

She says foreigners have been especially impressed with local iwi, Ngati Awa.

"The beautiful way they've responded and reflected the feelings people have been going through... that's probably been the greatest feedback, just how amazing they have been."

Turner is however concerned about how first responders are coping, especially those who do not normally handle emergency situations. 

"I'm a little bit more concerned with people who were helping in that situation for whom this is not anywhere near their normal. They'll have ongoing imagery in their mind with what they dealt with."

Police divers were in the waters around Whakaari/White Island on Saturday, looking for victims' bodies.

"The water around the island is contaminated, requiring the divers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, including using specialist protective equipment," said Tims.

"Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water."

GNS experts say there is a 35-50 percent chance of another eruption on Sunday which could affect more than just the vent area, down from Friday.

The vent area.
The vent area. Photo credit: GNS

A minute's silence will be held for the victims at 2:11pm on Monday, a week after the eruption, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday.

"Wherever you are in New Zealand, or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy. Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt, and our support for their grieving families and friends."


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