New Zealand authorities said they hoped clear weather Wednesday would allow the recovery of bodies from the White Island volcano but they would not be rushed into landing on the still-smoldering disaster zone.
Monday’s explosion at the popular tourist attraction off the North Island coast resulted in six deaths and authorities believe the remains of eight others listed as missing are still on the island.
A total of 47 day-trippers were on the island when the blast occurred, and many survivors suffered serious burns.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said he understood the frustration of family members who wanted their loved ones’ remains returned but defended the delay.
Nash said seismologists predicted there was a 50 percent chance of another eruption on the island, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea.
He said there were also poisonous gases pouring from the volcanic vent and the eruption had blanketed the island in a thick layer of acidic ash.
“It would be madness for us to send men and women across to White Island in a situation that was not safe for them,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“We have a responsibility to New Zealand police staff to ensure any situation we put them in is safe.”
Nash said reconnaissance flights had determined soon after survivors fled the initial blast that there was no one alive on the island.
Police want to deploy drones to measure toxic gas levels in the island’s atmosphere and determine whether it is safe to return, but windy conditions have so far prevented them from being flown.
“The weather’s certainly looking better in Whakatane today,” Nash said.
– ‘Not out of the woods’ –
Visitors to the island, which is marketed as an adventurous day trip, included a group of more than 30 from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Ovation of the Seas, which left Sydney on a 12-day voyage last week.
The ship had delayed its departure from nearby Tauranga in the wake of the disaster but set off for Wellington early morning.
“A team will remain onsite in Tauranga and all hospital locations to ensure those affected by Monday’s incident are taken care of in terms of medical help, counselling, accommodations, and transport,” the company said in a statement.
“Our priority continues to be to ensure that all guests and crew impacted are well taken care.”
Among those caught on the island during the sudden blast were tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany and Malaysia, as well as local tour guides.
The death toll reached six late Tuesday when an injured person died in an Auckland hospital and Nash said it could rise further.
“There are still some very, very seriously injured people in hospital. We wish them the best but we’re not out of the woods yet, of that there’s no doubt,” he said.
At least 26 survivors are being treated for severe burns and Nash said some were so badly injured their identity was still not known.
“My understanding is that nine are still in a critical condition, they cannot speak in any way shape or form or communicate,” he said.
He said authorities were being cautious about publicly releasing victims’ details to avoid any mistakes.
© 2019 AFP
Papua New Guinea bans travelers from all ‘Asian ports’
Papua New Guinea shut air and seaports to all foreign travellers coming from Asia on Wednesday, in a desperate bid to prevent the deadly coronavirus from reaching the impoverished Melanesian nation.
In a note to airlines and boat operators, the ministry of immigration said "all citizens originating from the Asian ports will be refused entry to the country effective today".
The ministry also announced that Papua New Guinea's only official land border -- with Indonesian-controlled Papua province -- would be shut from Thursday.
No cases of coronavirus have been reported in Papua New Guinea, but the country's health service is already buckling under the weight of underfunding and rampant public health problems.
Syria army says retakes key northwest town
Syria government forces recaptured the strategic highway town of Maaret al-Numan from jihadist and allied rebels on Wednesday, the army said, returning for the first time in seven years.
"Our forces managed in the past few days to stamp out terrorism in many villages and towns," including Maaret al-Numan, an army spokesman said.
In 2011, Maaret al-Numan was one of the first towns in the northwestern province of Idlib to rise up against the Damascus government and the following year, it was captured by rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
It lies on a key highway connecting the capital to second city Aleppo and has long been in the sights of the government.
The only nationwide database of priests deemed credibly accused of abuse
ProPublica published an interactive database on Tuesday that lets users search for clergy who have been listed as credibly accused of sexual abuse in reports released by Catholic dioceses and religious orders.
It is, as of publication, the only nationwide database of official disclosures. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the religious leaders’ national membership organization, does not publicly release any centralized, countrywide collection of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual assault.