New Zealand began efforts to recover the bodies of at least eight people killed in Monday’s volcanic eruption on a coastal island, even as scientists warned of a dangerous chance of a second eruption.
Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims announced the start of a recovery mission Friday morning, following a blessing at sea with some of the volcano victims’ family members, The Guardian reported.
At least 47 people were on White Island, also known as Whakaari, when it erupted around 2 p.m. Monday, carpeting the area with ash and steam. Many were tourists from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
Eight people have been confirmed dead ― including some who died at hospitals ― though numerous people remain missing.
The whereabouts of six bodies that remain on the island is known. The location of at least two others is unknown, and finding them may prove difficult, another deputy police commissioner, Mike Clement, told reporters.
“A lot has to go right for us tomorrow to make this work,” Clement said in a statement. “There is no zero risk option in regard to the plan but we have carefully considered it.”
The risk includes a 50% to 60% chance of a second eruption within 24 hours, according to volcanologists.
“In the last few hours, volcanic tremor has decreased but it is still very high compared to normal levels,” the country’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency said Thursday night. “Vigorous steam and mud bursts continue from the active vent area.”
Efforts to recover the bodies had been delayed earlier in the week due to geothermal activity, frustrating victims’ families who had been urging a mission sooner.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier offered no hope of finding anyone alive. The volcano spewed hot rocks, steam and toxic gas, and covered the island with about 20 inches of ash.
“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” Ardern said.