Questions raised over why tourists were allowed on volcanic island

Relatives of people injured in White Island’s volcano eruption have expressed outrage at their loved ones being allowed on the volcanic island given its activity in the preceding weeks.

Speaking in parliament today, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there will be “bigger questions” surrounding the eruption.

“These questions must be asked, and they must be answered,” she said, adding police and Work Safe will be releasing statements later today about the incident.

“Our focus now is discharging our duty of care to those affected, and that is also the focus of police.”

Ms Ardern praised New Zealand’s capacity to “mobilise, to respond, to care and embrace those impacted by tragedy”.

“We are a nation of ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” she said.

“I say to those who have lost and grieved, you are forever linked to our nation, and we will hold you close.”

Barbara Barham, the mum of Lauren Urey, 32, who was on a cruise ship excursion to the island with her husband, Matthew, 36, at the time of the eruption, argued more could have been done to warn them beforehand, The Washington Post reported.

According to Ms Barham, Matthew said in a message that he and Lauren were taken to a hospital. But the families had heard nothing since then and were worried about them.

“Obviously, I'm panicking. I don't know how to act. I feel like I should be crying, but I can't even cry,” she said.

American newlyweds Matthew and Lauren Urey were on an excursion to the island from their cruise ship when the volcano erupted. Source: Facebook

Ms Barham said she was “livid” over the fact that people were allowed to visit the volcano.

Matthew’s mum got in touch with Ms Barham and said her son left a voicemail saying they had been burned and would try to call as soon as he could, but it was difficult because of the burns on his hands.

“He said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult. His hands were so badly burned it was hard for him to make a phone call,” Ms Barham said.

The volcano erupted on Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam, killing at least five people, injuring many others including 13 Australians.

The volcano shortly before it erupted and killed at least five people on Monday. Source: AAP

‘Too dangerous for tour groups’

Eleven Australians are still unaccounted for and eight people are missing, feared dead, on the island.

The couple had been among tourists exploring the moon-like surface of White Island, which is the tip of an undersea volcano. 

Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, claims the island “has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years”.

“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter,” Cas said in comments published by the Australian Science Media Centre.

Tourists and tour guides fleeing White Island as it erupts. Source: AAP

GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November because of an increase in volcanic activity.

The daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the volcano every year. Passengers from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, were there at the time.

A crater rim camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed groups of people walking towards and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapour constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

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