White Island eruption: Australian families 'overwhelmed' by lack of information

Australian families are waiting anxiously for news about the fate of their loved ones caught up in the White Island eruption disaster.

It's believed three of the five confirmed dead are Australians, with 11 Australians unaccounted for and 13 hospitalised, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Twenty-four Australians were on White Island at the time of eruption, with many coming from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

While not an official register, the Red Cross' Family Links website lists many from across the Tasman as missing. 

Among those believed to be missing is four members of the Langford family from Sydney. The city's Marist College has confirmed former student Jesse Langford, his sister Winona, and parents Anthony and Kristine have not been heard from.

"Jesse, who graduated last year was a talented and popular student during his time at the school, finishing up as Mackillop House captain," the school principal said in a statement.

Although many of the families have been hopeful their relatives have survived, others were initially frustrated by a lack of information. Victim Support has been reaching out to families over the last day, including those overseas.

The sister of Brisbane woman Jessica Richards, who is believed to be missing along with her daughter Julie, told ABC News on Tuesday that she had heard nothing of her family. 

"We've rung the hospital, we've rung the cruise line, we've rung the New Zealand police hotline and nobody can tell us anything," Barbara Whitehead said on Tuesday.

"We rang the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and they don't have any information either at the moment.

"We're just so overwhelmed by everything at the moment, not getting any information. We're waiting for phone calls from authorities to let us know what's going on."

One father also spoke about being in a state of limbo.

Gavin Dallow, along with his partner Lisa and her daughter Zoe, travelled on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship to Tauranga on Monday, intending to visit Whakaari while on their overseas holiday.

Speaking to 7News on Tuesday, Gavin's father, Brian, said he had no information about what happened to them. The family was so concerned, a member has travelled to New Zealand to search for the trio.

After the interview, it emerged that Lisa had survived and was being treated in Waikato Hospital with severe bruns. The fate of Gavin and Zoe is unknown.

There is nothing for Brian to do but wait by the phone and listen to local news reports. Authorities, his family's travel agent, and the cruise ship company were unable to provide any more comprehensive information about what happened to his son. 

"We didn't sleep much last night… I was up about every two hours, checking the computers to see if there was any messages there or any news there," said Brian on Tuesday.

"I panicked a bit and got a bit teary."

The father said the only hope he had that his family was among those rescued from the island was media reports that relatives of the missing had been notified. He told 7News he hadn't been contacted.

"We're hoping they're in hospital somewhere because, as far as we know, they didn't get back on the ship," Brian said.

He said if the trio were severely burned, they may be unable to communicate with doctors and he doubts they would have taken identification with them to the island.

"It's very emotional for all of us at the moment."

Brian describes his son, a lawyer, as a friendly man who was easy to get on with. Gavin was regularly assisting his mother who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, including taking her to the oncologist.

While Brian said he didn't see much of Zoe as she was in the midst of her studies, she enjoyed Girl Guides and was very tall.

Police have acknowledged the difficult situation for families, but say they are working as quickly as possible to identify victims. The nature of the injuries has made this difficult, however. 

The fate of all of the island visitors is unknown, but Victim Support is attempting to help those affected.

"If the information is unknown it is very confusing for them," Victim Support chief executive Karen McLeay told Newshub.

"They often struggle to know how to respond."

She said grief can be even more difficult from a distance, and it can be especially difficult when bodies have not been recovered.

"Everybody deals with grief and shock process in a different way," McLeay said.