New Zealand volcano: Eight missing and presumed dead

Alix Culbertson, news reporter

Eight people are missing and "presumed" dead after the volcanic eruption on New Zealand's White Island, police have said.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims said five people had died, 31 were in hospital, three had been discharged from hospital and eight people were missing and "presumed dead" after the volcano suddenly spewed plumes of smoke and debris 3,600m (12,000ft).

Those who are injured range in age from 13 to 72, with many suffering severe burns, meaning there is a possibility not all will survive, doctors warned.

Authorities have not yet managed to get onto the island - which is 30 miles (48km) from the North Island's east coast - as it is still a "highly volatile environment" but a number of helicopters were sent over on Monday and they believe they saw six bodies covered in ash.

Dep Comm Tims said: "We strongly believe nobody has survived on the island - based on people who went to the island yesterday and rescued a number of people, and could not see anyone alive."

Providing the nationalities of all 47 people, he said two are from the UK - two women who are in hospital - four are from Germany, 24 from Australia, five from New Zealand, two from China, one from Malaysia and nine from the US.

Dr Peter Watson, clinical director at Counties Manukau District Health Board, said of the 31 people injured, 27 have sustained greater than 71% body surface burns - when survival rates drop rapidly.

He warned "it is possible not all patients will survive" their "very severe injuries", with many suffering from inhalation burns requiring airway support.

Dr Watson said 25 injured people are in Wellington's four regional burns units, while six people have been transferred to Auckland and two of them are to be transferred to Auckland burns units.

"All burns units are full," he said.

He added the units have dealt with the number of injuries they would deal with in a year, in just one day.

Seriously injured Australian citizens, who were all visiting from a cruise ship, will be flown to burns units in Australia soon so they can be near their families and homes, Dr Watson added.

Police tried to send a drone over the island earlier on Tuesday to capture gases so they can assess the safety of the island but it was too windy, so they will try again.

White Island is one of the country's most active volcanoes and was named because of its rising smoke plumes after Captain James Cook discovered it in 1769.

It rises to 321m above sea level, but around 70% of it is underwater, which has built up over 150,000 years of activity.

A major eruption in 2000 was followed by a long period of inactivity - until several eruptions took place in 2012 and 2013.

There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016.

In 1914, when the island was used for sulphur mining, all 12 workers on the island were killed when the western rim of the volcano collapsed.