WELLINGTON, Dec 16 — The names of four more people killed in an eruption on New Zealand’s most active volcano were released today, as the South Pacific nation prepared to mark one week since the disaster.
The death toll from the explosion stands at 18, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered, with at least 17 more being treated for severe burns in New Zealand and Australian hospitals.
All four victims named today were Australian — Jessica Richards, 20, Jason David Griffiths, 33, Martin Berend Hollander, 48, and Kristine Elizabeth Langford, 45.
It brings the number of Australians identified as fatalities in the eruption to eight, along with two US citizens who had permanent residency in Australia.
The only other person identified so far is New Zealander Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi, 24, who was working as a tour guide on the volcano last Monday when it blasted out a huge plume of ash, rock and superheated steam.
New Zealand will pause for a minute’s silence at 2:11pm (0111 GMT) — precisely a week since the eruption — in tribute to those affected.
A total of 47 day-trippers and guides were on the island at the time, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said the priorities were identifying the remains of the deceased and finding the two bodies now believed to be in the water off White Island.
Two land searches of the volcano carried out by special forces troops in protective gear have failed to find any sign of the missing people.
“We’ve been working with all the experts, including the harbourmaster who knows those waters better than anyone, to try to predict where those persons might be,” Bush told RNZ.
He said a helicopter was scouring the water of Bay of Plenty today, with searches by police and navy divers to resume tomorrow.
“We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” he said, adding in a separate interview to Auckland radio station Magic “it can take days and weeks”.
Bush was confident all the dead currently being examined by forensic specialists would eventually be identified and their bodies returned to grieving families.
“That’s progressing really well, it’s just so important that we get it right and also that we do it as quickly as possible,” he said.
Many of those affected were passengers on the cruise liner Ovation of the Seas, which berthed in Sydney early today.
“(It was) a bit sombre,” Australian man Troy, who did not give his surname, told Channel Nine after completing the voyage across the Tasman Sea.
“The crew were really good and trying to stay upbeat but you could tell they were hurting. I think the captain was breaking down crying a fair bit.” — AFP