WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) – Police divers working in near zero visibility in contaminated waters around New Zealand’s volcanic White Island tried yesterday to find the remaining two victims of an eruption that left at least 16 dead and dozens severely burned.
Ash and other fallout from Monday’s eruption has made the sea near the island toxic and divers have to be washed clean after every completed dive. Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims called search conditions “unique and challenging”.
“Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water. Conditions in the water today are not optimal with between zero and two metres visibility depending on location,” he said. Navy divers joined the police search effort later in the day. Military specialists on Friday recovered six bodies from the island in a carefully planned but risky operation.
Two more bodies of victims known to have been on the island could not be located during the four-hour operation, carried out by bomb disposal experts – six men and two women – wearing yellow hazmat suits and breathing apparatuses.
Police believe one of the missing bodies was sighted in the water close to the island by rescue teams on Tuesday, the day after the eruption. The location of the other body is not known.
Divers began the search for the bodies on Friday but were forced to stop near evening when weather conditions deteriorated.
An aerial search of the island was suspended at nightfall.