A volcano burst in New Zealand on Monday, killing at least five people and leaving many more missing.
News reports said at least 18 people were injured in the eruption of White Island volcano, about 50 kilometers off New Zealand’s main North Island. Some of the injured suffered severe burns.
About 50 people - including New Zealanders and foreign visitors - were feared to have been near the volcano at the time of the eruption, Reuters news agency reported. Travel groups often make day visits to White Island.
Police said in a statement there were no signs of life on the island after helicopters and other aircraft carried out search and rescue operations. “Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation,” the statement said.
Large clouds of ash and steam could be seen shooting thousands of meters into the air after the explosion.
The disaster immediately raised questions about why people were permitted to visit White Island. Scientists had noted a rise in volcanic activity in recent weeks.
The GeoNet agency follows volcano and earthquake activity in New Zealand. On November 18, it raised the alert level on White Island from 1 to 2. A level of 5 represents a major eruption. The agency also said at the time that volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate in past weeks.
After the eruption Monday, GeoNet raised the alert level to 4, before dropping it down to 3. “For volcanic eruptions, it is not large,” said Ken Gledhill, who is with the agency. “But if you were close to that, it is not good.”
Ray Cas is a professor in the school of geosciences at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In comments published by the Australian Science Media Center, he described White Island as “a disaster waiting to happen for many years.” He said he believes the island’s volcanic activity made it too dangerous for daily group visits.
Internet cameras operated by GeoNet showed that at least one group of visitors were near White Island’s crater minutes before it erupted. The webcam, along with three others, captures and broadcasts images of the volcano over the internet every 10 minutes.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
erupt – v. to send out rocks, ash, lava, etc., in a sudden explosion
evacuation – n. the moving of people from a dangerous place to somewhere safer
alert – n. an alarm or signal of danger
tremor – n. a shaking motion
crater – n. large hole in the top of a volcano