KUALA LUMPUR: One Malaysian is feared dead while another is in critical condition following a volcanic eruption which took place on at White Island, 50-kilometres from the North Island coast in New Zealand.
The Malaysian High Commission in Wellington said it was informed by New Zealand authorities that at least one out of five immediate fatalities was a Malaysian.
Wisma Putra, meanwhile, confirmed that another Malaysian was injured in the incident.
“The victim is reported to be in critical condition and is receiving treatment at the Christchurch Hospital.
“The Malaysian High Commission in Wellington has yet to receive further information on another Malaysian who reportedly died in the incident,” it said in a statement today.
Wisma Putra urged Malaysians who were affected or were at the scene to contact the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington at +64-4385 2439; +64-4801 5659 or +64-210440188 or email [email protected].
The eruption that lasted around two minutes generated a steam and ash column measuring 3 to 4km above the island.
New Zealand police said there were 47 people on the island, which is a tourist hotspot, at the time of the eruption. From the total, 24 people were from Australia, China (2), Germany (4), Malaysia (1), New Zealand (5), United Kingdom (2) and United States (9).
The authorities said eight people are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies of the five confirmed deceased were transported to Auckland today to enable post-mortem examinations to be carried out tomorrow.
The death toll from the eruption rose to six late yesterday, after an injured person died in a hospital in Auckland.
White Island is regarded as New Zealand’s most active volcano. A tourist attraction, it draws more than 10,000 visitors each year.
Its history of eruptions dated back to 1914, when a blast killed 10 sulphur miners. It has not recorded any fatalities since then, up until yesterday’s eruption.
Scientists said there were no indications that the volcano was going to erupt, despite volcanic activity detected in recent weeks.
Weeks prior to the eruption, New Zealand volcano monitoring service GeoNet had raised the alert level on White Island to ‘Level 2’, indicating that low-level volcanic activity taking place.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said aerial reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on White Island.
“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment at time and in your sorrow,” Ardern said at a news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland’s east coast, some 50 km from White Island, according to Reuters.
New Zealand authorities have launched a search and recovery operation. The police said due to the eruption effects on the bodies, recovery would require expert skill and care.
It is understood that the authorities would also be deploying drones carrying specialist measuring equipment in order to collect and analyse gas levels in the atmosphere.