'You are forever linked to our nation': Jacinda Ardern's tribute to White Island victims

The Prime Minister has delivered a moving speech on the Whakaari/White Island eruption, telling families of foreign victims of the natural disaster they will be "forever linked" to New Zealand. 

Jacinda Ardern delivered the ministerial statement on behalf of the Government, thanking first responders for their courage and offering condolences to the victims of the tragedy. 

"Our hearts go out to the families of those who are injured, missing or deceased," the Prime Minister said, addressing Parliament Tuesday afternoon. 

"Among those injured or missing are people from Australia, the United States, the UK, China, Germany, Malaysia, as well as New Zealand."

The latest information from police is that of the 47 people who visited the island on Monday, five are confirmed dead, 31 are in hospital, three have been discharged, and eight are missing, presumed dead.

"To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated," Ardern said. 

"To our international partners and friends, we will do everything we can to support you as you have supported us in times past.

"In particular, our family in Australia has been heavily impacted... We feel the pull of our bond acutely at this time."

The Prime Minister had a message to those who have lost loved ones or are grieving: "You are forever linked to our nation and we will hold you close."

Reflecting on the events since White Island erupted on Monday afternoon, the Prime Minister described the scale of the tragedy as "devastating". 

"Police and Defence Force personnel have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption; however no signs of life have been detected.

"In the immediate aftermath of the eruption, a number of helicopter pilots made the conscious decision to fly to the island to try to rescue people."

She said one Westpac rescue helicopter, two private helicopters, along with a helicopter from a tour operator, all landed on the island after the eruption to assist survivors.

"I want to acknowledge their courage."

Ardern said the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence Emergency Management Group is continuing to lead the response. She said they're focusing on providing welfare support for victims, survivors and their families.

The group is supported in its work by the National Emergency Management Agency which is also coordinating the response at the national level.

"The New Zealand police are quite rightly focused on coordinating the recovery operation supported by Fire and Emergency New Zealand," the Prime Minister said. 

"Police are also working urgently to confirm the exact number and identity of those who are unaccounted for so that their families and their loved ones have the certainty that they need."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is also on the ground in Whakatane - the centre nearest to White Island - working alongside police to provide that assistance and support. 

"I want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of health professionals who are working across the country to prioritise support to those injured," Ardern said. 

"In some cases, this has meant people have been moved around the country to ensure they have the best expert care... That means they are in Middlemore, Waikato, Christchurch, Auckland, the Hutt and Tauranga."

The Prime Minister met with first responders and health professionals on Tuesday morning. She said they "worked tirelessly in the most devastating circumstances.... Many of them had not yet rested or slept". 

PM Jacinda Ardern meeting first responders.
PM Jacinda Ardern meeting first responders. Photo credit: Supplied
PM Jacinda Ardern with Labour MP Kiri Allan meeting first responders.
PM Jacinda Ardern with Labour MP Kiri Allan meeting first responders. Photo credit: Supplied

"The toll that this extraordinary tragedy has had on them is obvious."

The New Zealand Defence Force has deployed helicopters, drones and observational equipment to further assess the environment, and the HMNZS Wellington is also in the area, she said. 

"We know there is much work to be done over the coming days and weeks... We know too there will be bigger questions in relation to this event...These questions must be asked and they must be answered."

Ardern said the focus for now is taking care of those who have been affected. 

"As we focus on the tragic events of Whakaari/White Island, I'm reminded of two things: there is no limit to New Zealand's capacity to mobilise, to respond, to care and embrace those impacted by tragedy.

"We are a nation full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things."

You can read more about the natural disaster here