The names of four more people killed in an eruption on New Zealand’s most active volcano were released on Monday, as the country observed a minute’s silence to mark one week since the disaster.
The death toll from the explosion stands at 18, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered, with at least 17 more being treated for severe burns in New Zealand and Australian hospitals.
All four victims named on Monday were Australian – Jessica Richards, 20, Jason David Griffiths, 33, Martin Berend Hollander, 48, and Kristine Elizabeth Langford, 45.
It brings the number of Australians identified as among those killed in the eruption to eight, along with two citizens from the United States who had permanent residency in Australia.
The only other person identified so far is New Zealander Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi, 24, who was working as a tour guide on the volcano last Monday when it blasted out a huge plume of ash, rock and superheated steam.
New Zealand paused for a minute’s silence at 2:11pm (01:11 GMT) led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who stood alongside her ministers in the country’s Parliament building.
“Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close,” Ardern posted on her official Instagram account.
A total of 47 day-trippers and guides were on the island at the time, hailing from Australia, the US, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
2:11pm. A minute’s silence.
— US Embassy NZ 🇺🇸🇳🇿 (@usembassynz) December 16, 2019
Police commissioner Mike Bush said the priorities were identifying the remains of the deceased and finding the two bodies now believed to be in the water off White Island.
Search resumes Tuesday
Two land searches of the volcano carried out by special forces troops in protective gear have failed to find any sign of the missing people.
“We’ve been working with all the experts, including the harbour master who knows those waters better than anyone, to try to predict where those persons might be,” Bush told Radio New Zealand.
He said a helicopter was scouring the water of Bay of Plenty on Monday, with searches by police and navy divers to resume on Tuesday.
“We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” he said, adding in a separate interview to Auckland radio station Magic “it can take days and weeks”.
Bush was confident all the dead currently being examined by forensic specialists would eventually be identified and their bodies returned to grieving families.
“That’s progressing really well, it’s just so important that we get it right and also that we do it as quickly as possible,” he said.
Many of those affected were passengers on the cruise liner Ovation of the Seas, which berthed in Sydney early Monday.
“(It was) a bit sombre,” Australian man Troy, who did not give his surname, told Channel Nine after completing the voyage across the Tasman Sea.
“The crew were really good and trying to stay upbeat but you could tell they were hurting. I think the captain was breaking down crying a fair bit.”