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- Reuters10th Dec 2019 08:06:46 GMT +0300
New Zealand police said on Tuesday they were launching a criminal investigation after a volcanic island erupted with ash and steam on Monday, killing five people, injuring more than 30 and leaving eight people missing, presumed dead.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on White Island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by survivors, most of them tourists.
“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” Ardern said in parliament. “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated.”
Police said 47 people were on the island at the time of the eruption – 24 from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the UK and one from Malaysia.
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“I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island,” police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said of the eight people still missing.
Of the injured, at least 27 suffered greater than 71% body surface burns, and some could succumb to their wounds, said Peter Watson, the government’s chief medical officer.
Burns units across the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million are full to capacity, he added.
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A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand’s geological hazards agency GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion. Other images showed the explosion that shot an ash plume some 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.
“It’s now clear that there were two groups on the island – those who were able to be evacuated and t
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