'It's like Chernobyl: Witness reveals haunting details from volcano as death toll rises

Australian Associated Press

The death toll for New Zealand’s volcano eruption has climbed to six people, with another eight people presumed dead after they were unable to escape White Island, also known as Whakaari.

The wait to identify the Australians and others caught up in New Zealand's volcano disaster continues, as families and loved ones continue their anxious wait for updates.

Police stated their primary objective was to return the bodies from the island to their families, but they were waiting for the environment to be stable enough for a safe retrieval operation.

They have scotched the notion that those left on the island could be saved, saying they believed "anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation".

The volcano shown erupting on White Island, New Zealand, on Monday. Source: AAP
The volcano shown erupting on White Island, New Zealand, on Monday. Source: AAP

Paramedic Rusty Clarke was on board a helicopter that flew to White Island on a rescue mission shortly after the eruption.

‘It was quite daunting’

He likened the ashened landscape he saw to that of a nuclear explosion.

"Looking down on it, I would have to describe it as Chernobyl," he told Radio NZ.

"It was just a complete, absolute whiteout of the area involved.

"It was quite a daunting experience seeing that initial landscape."

Clarke said first responders often took a mental hit from their efforts.

A rescue boat leaving White Island following the eruption of the volcano on Monday. Source: AAP
A rescue boat leaving White Island following the eruption of the volcano on Monday. Source: AAP

"It becomes pretty overwhelming emotionally pretty quickly. When you combine the potential for injury and loss of life, it's quite an ordeal," he said.

"We've got a job to do. But we're all family.

"You can't help feel empathy and just the sheer magnitude of it."

Whakatane has acted as the base for the rescue and support operation.

On Tuesday, Kiwi officials made the decision to airlift at least 31 injured victims to hospitals across the country, ensuring each patient could be seen by specialists within burns units as far away as Christchurch.

Anthony and Kristine Langford are unaccounted for, along with their kids Jesse and Winona. Source: Facebook
Anthony and Kristine Langford are unaccounted for following the eruption, along with their kids Jesse and Winona. Source: Facebook

The dispersal has complicated the identification process and the communication of those names to the public.

‘The suffering is severe’

NZ police have committed to releasing more information as soon as they can.

"We are working to confirm the identities of those involved … the nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and (that) means identifying them is a complex matter," a statement read.

"We are working through the process to identify them as quickly as possible, to return those who have died to their loved ones."

Gavin Dallow and his wife Lisa Hosking. Australians caught out by White Island volcano eruption.
Lisa Hosking (right) has been located in a Hamilton hospital, but her husband Gavin Dallow (left) and daughter Zoe, remain unaccounted for. Source: Facebook

Australian Lisa Dallow, 48, was located in a Hamilton hospital with severe burns, but concerns are still held for her husband Gavin Dallow, 53, and her daughter Zoe Hosking, 15.

The Langford family from Sydney comprising of parents Anthony and Kristine, son Jesse, 19, and daughter Winona, 17, remain missing.

Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20, from Brisbane are also still unaccounted for.

Questions have been raised in the wake of the eruption over why tourists were allowed on the island given its activity in the preceding weeks.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.