White Island volcano: NZ police plan to recover bodies on Friday

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New Zealand police have said they plan to recover bodies from White Island – where a volcanic eruption killed at least eight people – on Friday morning.

The rescue mission will go ahead despite the risk of another eruption, police said.

At least eight people are thought to be on the island following the eruption on Monday morning. All are presumed dead.

Police said they were considering a “high-speed recovery” of the bodies.

Eight others have already been confirmed dead, and 20 are in intensive care after suffering severe burns when the volcano erupted as tourists were visiting.

GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard information site, said on Thursday there was a 50-60% chance of another eruption occurring within the next 24 hours.

But families of the victims were growing increasingly “desperate” for the bodies to be recovered, police said

A ‘trade-off’

In a news conference earlier on Thursday, Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said police were considering several options for the risky operation.

A normal recovery operation would see police spending enough time at the scene to collect the evidence needed to ensure the bodies were all properly identified.

A fast mission would mean recovering the remains quicker but with a “trade-off”, he said.

“If you are the next of kin and we don’t get an identification as a consequence of taking that process, they are not going to be happy and I would understand that,” Mr Clement said.

There are also concerns that the air on the island is dangerous to breathe. Authorities are trying to measure toxic gas levels with the help of drones sent over the island.

“We are now living with a growing sense of desperation to bring home those that we know are there and those we love,” Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner told reporters.

“The frustration of those families most affected is completely understandable.”

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Maori place ceremonial ban on volcano

Local Maori groups have placed a “rahui” over the waters around the volcano and the coastal stretch on the Bay of Plenty.

It is a traditional prohibition banning anyone except recovery teams from visiting the island or fishing nearby.

White Island is called Whakaari by the Maori and holds spiritual significance for the local Ngati Awa tribe.

The rahui was placed on Tuesday morning and will be lifted only once the missing bodies are recovered.

The recovery mission might be accompanied by a tohunga from the tribe – an traditional expert to provide spiritual support.

Rahui are often placed on areas after deaths or accidents occur or to protect natural resources in a specific area. They are not legally binding but are commonly respected by New Zealanders.

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The volcano, also known as Whakaari, erupted on Monday when at least 47 visitors from around the world were on the crater.

Many of the survivors are still in intensive care with severe burns.

An estimated 1.2m sq cm of replacement skin will be needed for the patients, according to Dr Peter Watson, chief medical officer at New Zealand’s National Burns Unit.

Police have said the injuries to so some were so severe that they were unable to identify themselves.

White Island is a popular tourist destination off the northern coast of North Island and there were day tours and scenic flights available.

Helicopter covered in ash on White Island, 9 DecemberImage copyrightMICHAEL SCHADE
Image captionA clip posted on Twitter showed an ash-covered helicopter on the island as the eruption took place