Residents take coronavirus surveillance into their own hands

By Thin Lei Win and Beh Lih Yi

ROME/KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A week after Malaysia ordered a partial lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, construction supervisor Hafi Nazhan saw residents in his affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood jogging outside.

He took photos of people flouting the stay-at-home order and published them on Twitter, receiving hundreds of shares. Hafi’s followers informed the police, who subsequently arrested 11 joggers in his neighbourhood.

They were charged with violating the movement restriction order and each fined 1,000 ringgit ($230) in court.

“I was upset some people did not take this stay-at-home order seriously. These are well-educated people,” Hafi, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that police were spurred into taking action after his tweets went viral.

As governments around the world urge citizens to stay indoors to contain the deadly virus, concerned communities are taking surveillance matters into their own hands, reporting alleged breaches of quarantine and questioning anyone they deem suspicious.

The respiratory disease – which emerged in China late last year – has infected roughly 1.2 million people and killed about 65,000, according to a global tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In Singapore, a Facebook post by a man sharing a photo of himself enjoying a bowl of bak kut teh – pork rib soup – in a restaurant when he should be self-quarantining at home was so widely circulated that officials stepped in.

Singapore’s law minister ordered an investigation and the immigration authorities told local media the man was likely to be charged, although they did not respond to requests seeking comment.

In New Zealand, which is under a one-month shutdown, a police website set up to allow residents to report their neighbours who break isolation rules crashed hours after going live.

The website has received about 14,000 reports in less than a week since its March 29 launch, New Zealand police said in an email. They reportedly include people playing frisbee and holding parties.

In Italy, which has been under lockdown for weeks, fraying tempers have led to people being insulted from balconies or photographed and put on social media.

In Spain, locals have also begun posting videos of people going for a run, walking in the park, riding a bike – all prohibited activities – on social media.

HEALTH VS. PRIVACY

Such tip-offs and videos have sparked a debate over digital ethics with some arguing that normal privacy rules do not apply in a health emergency because the information is in the public interest.

“When we are all threatened with the risk of catching a lethal, incurable disease I see no reason why individuals should not report their legitimate concerns to the authorities,” said David Watts, former privacy commissioner for Australia’s Victoria state.

“There is not much point having privacy rights when you are dead,” added Watts, who now teaches information law and policy at Melbourne-based La Trobe University.

For David Lindsay, law professor at the University of Technology Sydney, privacy is “not an absolute right and must always be balanced against other rights and interests”.

“The balance struck obviously depends upon circumstances, and a global pandemic is an extreme event,” he said.

Still, both Watts and Lindsay said the balance between privacy and surveillance should be reset when the pandemic is over.

Others, like Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to privacy, fear surveillance measures ranging from facial recognition to phone tracking could outlast the current crisis.

“Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

STIGMA AND FEAR

Community surveillance could also end up being used “in a malicious way, particularly to replicate prejudice or bias”, warned Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at digital rights group Access Now.

“Often the people who might be reported on will be the least privileged, or might be belong to, in the case of India, lower caste communities or people who have to work outside,” he said.

Human rights experts worry that the tens of thousands of migrant workers who returned to Myanmar after a shutdown in neighbouring Thailand’s left them jobless will come under intense scrutiny.

In a village in central Myanmar, locals would not allow a young man who returned from Thailand to stay in his home, said Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst.

Foreigners have also been targeted on social media, with a Facebook video showing agitated residents in a neighbourhood in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, who described barging into a building after seeing Chinese visitors coughing.

Filmed Tuesday night, it has received more than 1 million views and 10,000 shares.

“The public is being very sensitive at the moment … when the key in this kind of situation is that you should help each other,” said Khin Zaw Win.

“Some of it have to do with the narrative that (coronavirus) was brought here from abroad. I think the panic is even scarier than the virus,” he added.

Myanmar so far has about 20 confirmed cases of the virus, with the health ministry warning of a “major outbreak” after the return of migrant workers from Thailand.

Officials have also reminded the public that failure to report people suspected of being infected could lead to jail sentences of up to a month.

“From the point of view of public health, surveillance and tracking is essential. The faster and the more effectively you can enforce it, the better,” said Sid Naing, Myanmar country director for health charity Marie Stopes International.

“But it should not be done in a way that breeds hatred and fear. It should be done based on understanding and support,” he said.

“At the moment, the state cannot provide full surveillance so people started doing it themselves because they are terrified … but there are stigma and discrimination behind the fear and those are the problems.”

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink and Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, additional reporting from Sophie Davies in Barcelona, editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Probes into New Zealand volcano tragedy to take months and carry criminal penalties

Probes into New Zealand volcano tragedy to take months and carry criminal penalties
By Praveen Menon and Charlotte Greenfield

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that official inquiries into last week’s fatal volcano eruption could take up to a year, and will carry potential criminal penalties of up to five years in jail.

Ardern also announced a NZ$5 million ($3.2 million) fund to help small businesses affected by the eruption, after New Zealanders held a minute of silence to honor the victims a week on from the tragedy.

The official death toll from the surprise eruption on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, stands at 16. Two people whose bodies are believed to be in the waters around the island are still officially listed as missing.

A further 26 people remain in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia, many in critical condition with severe burn injuries.

“There remains now questions to be asked and questions to be answered,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington after she led the country in a minute of silence for the dead and injured, who included tourists from United States, Germany, China, Britain and Malaysia.

There has been growing criticism that people were allowed on the island, a popular destination for day-trippers, given the risks of an active volcano. That has led to speculation the tragedy could foretell major changes for New Zealand’s thrillseeker tourism economy.

WorkSafe, New Zealand’s primary regulator for workplace related incidents, has opened a health and safety investigation, Ardern said, while the coroner is conducting a separate inquiry.

Worksafe can prosecute individuals and companies for breaches of health and safety laws, with penalties including fines of up to NZ$3 million and jail terms of up to five years, Ardern said.

A coronial investigation is automatically triggered in the event of a sudden, violent or unnatural death. A coroner can also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Ardern said the Worksafe investigation could take a year, while the coronial inquiry was “also likely to continue for some time.”

The NZ$5 million support fund is expected to be distributed among businesses in Whakatane, the mainland coastal town that serves as the jumping off point for trips to Whakaari. Asked if operators of tours to the island would be among the beneficiaries, Ardern said that specifics had not yet been determined.

SEARCH ONGOING

At White Island, recovery teams again conducted aerial searches in a bid to locate the bodies of the last two people known to have been on the island.

Six bodies were retrieved from the island on Friday, and officials believe the remaining two bodies are now likely to be in the surrounding waters. Naval divers are scheduled to continue the search on Tuesday.

“We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told Radio New Zealand.

Many of dead and injured were Australians on a day tour from a Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd <RCL.N> ship. The 16-deck Ovation of the Seas docked back in Sydney on Monday, with some passengers disembarking in tears as they were reunited with family members.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her New Zealand counterpart in Wellington on Monday to express Australia’s thanks to emergency and medical crews.

Legal experts said last week they expected to see lawsuits filed in the U.S. courts by injured passengers and families of those who died. Royal Caribbean’s potential liability for the deadly excursion could hinge on whether the eruption was an unforeseeable “act of God,” maritime lawyers told Reuters.

“We will to continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an emailed statement on Monday.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington, additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; editing by Jane Wardell)

Royal Caribbean liability for volcano deaths may turn on ‘act of God’ defense

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s potential liability for a deadly excursion to a volcanic island in New Zealand could hinge on whether the eruption was an unforeseeable “act of God,” according to maritime lawyers.

Cruise ship passengers were among the tourists on White Island on Monday when it erupted. While no lawsuits have yet been filed, legal experts said they expected action in U.S courts by injured passengers and families of those who died.

There were 47 people on the island at the time. Eight have been officially declared dead and more than 20 are being treated for severe burns. The New Zealand military was carrying out an operation to recover eight other bodies still on the island.

Royal Caribbean ticket terms posted on its website spell out that the company is not liable for any injury, death or loss of property caused by an act of God, as well as war, terrorism or other events beyond the company’s control.

Royal Caribbean will likely argue the disaster was an extraordinary event no one could reasonably foresee, said Robert Kritzman, an attorney with Baker Donelson in Miami.

“If a volcano were to erupt, clearly that isn’t negligence on anyone’s part, that’s nature,” said Kritzman, a former general counsel with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Royal Caribbean did not respond to questions about missing passengers or whether it told passengers of the risks of visiting the island.

“We grieve this tragic loss. We will to continue to offer our support and services to the families during this difficult time,” the company said in an email.

Part of the case will turn on what the cruise line knew or should have known and what they told passengers about indications of increased volcanic activity.

“There are tremors, there are earthquakes and people monitor that,” said Carlos Llinás Negret, an attorney with Nelson & Fraenkel who represents passengers. “It all depends on what the cruise knew, and when they knew it.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November and said on Dec. 3 that “the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal.”

The cruise line described White Island as “one of the most active volcanoes in the world,” according to a cached version of its website. “Get close to the drama: Gas masks help you get near roaring steam vents, bubbling pits of mud, hot volcanic streams and the amazing lake of steaming acid,” it promised.

Virginia parents of one woman who was severely burned told a TV station that her daughter said she believed Royal Caribbean would not have let her visit the island if it were not safe.

The experts said in a typical shore excursion accident the cruise line tries to put blame on the third party that is hired to run the tour. On its website, Royal Caribbean does not identify the company that ran the White Island excursion.

Passengers would have to show Royal Caribbean did not take proper care to vet the operator, lawyers said.

But lawsuits face the added challenge of overcoming the argument the eruption was unforeseeable.

Norwegian Cruise Line was able to fend off a class action lawsuit about a large “freak wave” hitting one of its ships in 2005 by arguing it was an unforeseeable event. Regulators had concluded there was no wrongdoing by Norwegian.

Royal Caribbean is using the act of God defense against a class action about a powerful storm in 2016 that hit the ship Anthem of the Seas off the eastern United States. Passengers said the company knew of the risks of the storm, but tried to outrun it.

The dramatic description of the White Island tour on Royal Caribbean’s website will likely be a focus of any lawsuit, with lawyers seizing on it to show the company knew a disaster was possible, legal experts said. The company could argue passengers were fully informed of the dangers and received proper safety equipment.

“If they hand out gas masks that says automatically you know you have a risk,” said Bob Parks, a Miami attorney who represents passengers.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Six bodies retrieved from New Zealand volcanic island, two still missing

Six bodies retrieved from New Zealand volcanic island, two still missing
By Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon

WHAKATANE/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A New Zealand military team in gas masks and hazmat suits recovered six bodies on Friday from the volcanic island that fatally erupted earlier this week, as doctors worked to save badly burned survivors.

An eight-person bomb disposal squad set off before dawn and spent four hours on White Island, which experts said could erupt again.

Six of the eight bodies on the island were successfully retrieved and taken to a naval patrol vessel for transfer to the mainland for disaster victim identification.

“Today was all about returning them to their loved ones,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a media conference in Whakatane, the mainland coastal town where about 100 family and local community members prayed and sang together.

“We know that reunion won’t ease that sense of loss, of suffering because I don’t think anything can but we felt an enormous sense of duty as New Zealanders to bring their loved ones home.”

The team was unable to find and recover the remaining two bodies as the cumbersome protective equipment they needed to wear slowed down the tricky operation.

Police said dive teams deployed in the waters around the island, which is also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, had not found anything and would try again on Saturday.

“It’s not over yet,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters in Whakatane, some 50 km (30 miles) west of the island.

Pictures showed pairs of military personnel wearing breathing apparatus scouring the lunar-like landscape as inflatable dinghies and a police launch waited offshore.

The volcano, a popular tourist destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people on the island at the time were Australian, U.S., German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists.

The official death toll stands at eight as the bodies on the island have been classified as missing until they are formally identified. More than two dozen more people are in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.

A blessing was held at sea with the victims’ families before the mission was launched.

Locals Boz Te Moana, 24 and Michael Mika, 28, came to support families gathered at the marae, a Maori community center, in Whakatane.

“Where we come from we don’t leave anyone behind, no one gets left behind,” Te Moana said of his Maori community. “We all move as one.”

Relatives sat among the coffins of those who were recovered on Friday, not knowing which belonged to their family member, senior legislator Kelvin Davis told reporters.

“But it was just an opportunity, as they said, regardless of whether we’re from Australia or New Zealand or wherever, that the moment we’re one whanau (family) and will mourn everybody as if they are our own.”

GRAPHIC: Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand (https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

SKIN SUPPLIES

Australians made up the majority of the tourists visiting the island at the time of the explosion and those recovered on Friday.

Many of them were passengers on a Royal Caribbean Cruises ship on a day tour to the island.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said 11 injured Australians have been transferred from overloaded burns units in New Zealand, with one more to be repatriated in the “coming days”.

Peter Haertsch, the doctor in charge of the burns unit caring for the returned Australians, said they been exposed to fast-moving clouds of very hot volcanic gas, pumice and ash.

“They have suffered severe contact skin burns with severe injuries due to inhalation of gas and ash, and we are looking at extensive and intensive care for these patients, some of whom are still in a life-threatening condition,” Haertsch said in an emailed statement.

Payne said Australia was working with the United States and other countries to source some of the urgently needed 1.2 million square cms (186,000 square inches) of skin, an amount that far exceeds annual donations in New Zealand and Australia.

“It’s jarring for us to hear just the sheer scale of that need because it amplifies just how horrific some of the injuries are,” Ardern told ABC Radio.

QUESTIONS OVER RISK

Authorities had faced growing pressure in recent days from families of some victims to recover the bodies as soon as possible.

There has also been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given the risks of an active volcano.

Pressed to discuss whether the island should have been open, Ardern said she didn’t want to preempt an inquiry which has been launched.

“I think families would be best served by that, rather than speculation.”

GRAPHIC: Volcanic alerts for White Island since 1995 (https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4Q22ES/New-Zealand-Volcano-Alerts.jpg)

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Whakatane, Praveen Menon and John Mair in Wellington and Colin Packham in Sydney; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Questions mount over tours to deadly New Zealand volcano

By Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon

WHAKATANE/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Tourists caught in the deadly blast at New Zealand’s White Island were there despite a recent increase in volcanic activity, although experts said precise predictions on eruptions were all but impossible.

Five people were killed, eight are still missing and more than 30 were injured when the White Island volcano, one of the most active in New Zealand, erupted in a steam and gas explosion on Monday. Many of the visitors were on a day tour from a cruise trip in a nearby port.

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised its alert level for the island near the middle of a six-point scale in mid-November because of an increase in volcanic activity. But tour companies were not required to keep their dozens of customers that day away from the volcano, operators and agencies say.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the government would investigate the incident.

“I have to say that I’m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity,” said Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen. “I’ve been to White Island before, but I don’t think I would have been comfortable being there today.”

Local tourism authorities market White Island, or ‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.

The volcano attracts volcanologists and thrill-seekers from around the world to walk across the island’s wild landscape, which features active geothermal steam vents and bubbling mud pools.

The privately owned island runs daily tours, and more than 10,000 people to visit every year.

“The eruption was unfortunate but not completely unexpected,” said Jessica Johnson, lecturer in Geophysics at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “The most that the scientists can do is continue to monitor the volcano and issue information when it is available.”

The regional government monitors the volcano’s activity through GeoNet and other agencies. Tour operators, which must have government permits to take people to the island, can shut down access based on that data, tour companies said.

“The safety instructions, the discussion before you go, makes it very clear to you that this is an active volcano, there are risks, when you get handed over gas masks, so the tour companies go to great lengths to make sure people do understand exactly what this is,” said Anne Tolley, local leader and parliament member from the East Coast.

Experts said it was difficult to predict exactly when a volcano would erupt. New Zealand uses a scale of 0-5 to rank volcano eruption risk, with 0 being no activity and 5 being a large eruption. On Monday, White Island was level 2.

Although there are signs scientists can watch for, they are more of an indicator of risk rather than predictive tools, said Toshitsugu Fujii, Head of the Mount Fuji Research Institute in Yamanashi, Japan.

“With a steam explosion it can be hard to see the signals until right before it happens,” Fujii said. “It seems that the volcano was getting more active and they raised the alert level, so they were paying attention. But you can’t tell, even so, if it’ll erupt today, next week or next month.”

Paul Quinn, chairman of Ngāti Awa Holdings, which owns White Island Tours, told Radio New Zealand that the alert levels over the last few weeks did not meet the company’s threshold for stopping operations.

He did not say what specific criteria the company considered, but said that at level 3 it would “liaise more directly” with the government about whether to continue tours.

 

LIVE VOLCANO

Ardern acknowledged that tourism on White Island had been going on safely for decades.

“It has been a live volcano throughout that time and at various time has been level 2 but it is a very unpredictable volcano,” she said.

There are dozens of volcanoes across New Zealand. The country’s largest city, Auckland, sits on a volcanic field made up of about 50 volcanic cones and craters that have erupted over the past 250,000 years. Some get daily tours.

Mount Ruapehu on the central North Island has erupted several times in recent years but is still a major tourist attraction, with ski resorts on its slopes.

Injuries and deaths are rare for volcano tourism anywhere, data show. White Island’s last eruption was in 2016, but no one was affected. A volcano on the Italian tourism island of Stromboli killed one person when it erupted in July.

When Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted in a steam explosion September 2014, the peak was packed with hikers out on a weekend to admire autumn foliage. 63 were killed, the highest toll for an eruption in 90 years. Japan constantly monitors 50 peaks.

Tristan Vine, a Whakatane businessman, told Reuters that New Zealand’s volcano tours are a big draw and that many businesses in the town rely on them.

“There’s obviously plenty of other things to be done but White Island is built on the foundation of that. So it’s quite critical for the town,” Vine said.

Graphic: Volcanoes in New Zealand (https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PY2EJ/New-Zealand-Volcano-Map.jpg)

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Spitting volcano keeps search parties off New Zealand island, death toll rises to six

By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – Fearing a volcano could erupt again, search parties were unable to set foot on New Zealand’s White Island for eight people still missing on Tuesday, as police raised the death toll to six from the eruption a day earlier.

Police doubted whether any more survivors would be found. They said the latest victim died in hospital, having been among more than 30 people injured in the eruption on the uninhabited island, a popular sightseeing excursion for tourists.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on the ash covered island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by those caught up in Monday’s eruption.

“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” Ardern said in parliament. “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated.”

Police said 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption.

Twenty-four came from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the Britain and one from Malaysia.

“I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island,” police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said of the eight people still missing.

Most of the injured had suffered greater than 71% body surface burns, said Peter Watson, the government’s chief medical officer, warning that some might not survive.

Burn units across the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million are full to capacity, he added.

Relatives of missing tour guide Tipene Maangi held onto hopes that the 23-year-old man had survived, unsure whether he was among those in hospital.

“We are all standing strong, standing together, holding the fort together, and like I said in prayer with faith… we are just staying strong for one another until we actually know for sure,” said his aunt Ronnie.

Police said an investigation into the deaths on White Island had been launched but clarified it was not a criminal investigation.

New Zealand’s geological hazards agency GeoNet raised the alert level for the volcano in November because of an increase in volcanic activity. The volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners.

Yet, daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the privately owned island every year, marketed as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.

“I have to say that I’m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity,” said Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen.

“I’ve been to White Island before, but I don’t think I would have been comfortable being there today.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion.

“It’s now clear that there were two groups on the island – those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption,” Ardern said at a morning news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland’s east coast, about 50 km (30 miles) from White Island.

INCREDIBLY BRAVE

Later, in parliament, she paid tribute to the pilots of four helicopters that landed on White Island in the aftermath of the eruption.

“In their immediate efforts to get people off the island, those pilots made an incredibly brave decision under extremely dangerous circumstances,” Ardern said.

Since then, rescuers have been unable to access the island, which is covered in gray ash. GNS Science, New Zealand’s geoscience agency, warned there was a 50/50 chance of another eruption in the coming 24 hours, as the volcano vent continued to emit “steam and mud jetting.”

The Buttle family have owned the island for over 80 years, and a spokesman said they were devastated by the tragic event.

“We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island,” Peter Buttle said. “Their efforts have been both courageous and extraordinary.”

Royal Caribbean confirmed several passengers on its 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, were on a day trip to the island but did not provide further information.

Janet Urey, 61, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, and his wife, Janet, 32, were cruise passengers injured in the eruption while on their honeymoon.

“The phone rang at midnight. Then I heard a voicemail come on. It was my son. He said, ‘Mom … this is not a joke. A volcano erupted while we were on the island. We’re at the hospital with severe burns.'”

Urey said she was frustrated by the lack of information from the cruise ship he was on and from authorities.

“I have not heard a word from the cruise people,” she said.

A New Zealand man, Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group was just leaving the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped pull critically injured survivors into a boat.

Hopkins, 50, who was given the tour as a birthday gift, said many of the survivors had run into the sea to escape the eruption.

“People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt,” he told the NZ Herald newspaper.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.

A website managed by the New Zealand Red Cross listed 17 Australians as missing though some could be among those in hospital.

Malaysia’s high commission in New Zealand said one Malaysian was among the dead, while Britain’s high commissioner to New Zealand confirmed two British women were among the injured.

Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic with a helicopter team, said the early scenes were overwhelming.

“Everything was just blanketed in ash,” he told Reuters. “It was quite an overwhelming feeling.”

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most-active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, according to GeoNet.

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcano map of New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PY2EJ/New-Zealand-Volcano-Map.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic alerts for White Island since 1995 – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4Q22ES/New-Zealand-Volcano-Alerts.jpg)

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Whakatane and Praveen Menon in Wellington, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Jane Wardell and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

‘No signs of life’ on New Zealand volcano island after disaster ‘waiting to happen’

By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Tuesday that eight people were missing, presumed dead, a day after a volcano unexpectedly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring more than 30.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters in Whakatane, a town near the volcanic White Island tourist attraction, that aerial reconnaissance flights had shown no signs of life.

“It’s now clear that there were two groups on the island – those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption,” Ardern told reporters.

New Zealanders and tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China and Malaysia were among the missing and injured, she said, adding that there were two explosions in quick succession. No further details were given.

“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment at time and in your sorrow,” Ardern said.

Waikato Police Superintendent Bruce Bird said 47 people visited the island on Monday – five were confirmed to have been killed and eight were missing. Some 31 were in hospital and three had been discharged.

Police said they did not expect to find any more survivors from the eruption, which spewed a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air. Many of the injured were in critical condition, most from burns, Ardern said.

White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. Volcanologists said the ash plume shot 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Centre.

“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.”

Bird said rescue services were working to return to the island and were relying on advice from scientific and technical experts meeting in Wellington on Monday.

“We will only go to the island if it is safe for our people,” said Bird.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

Ardern said helicopters made a deliberate decision to fly to the island to rescue survivors immediately after the eruption. Graphic: Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand, https://tmsnrt.rs/38iBpyN

“I want to acknowledge the courageous decision made by first responders and those pilots who in the immediate rescue effort made an incredibly brave decision under extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in an attempt to get people out,” she Ardern.

“As a result of their efforts a number of people were rescued from the island.”

‘THIS IS NOT A JOKE’

Janet Urey, 61, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, was injured in the eruption while on honeymoon.

“The phone rang at midnight. Then I heard a voicemail come on. It was my son. He said, Mom…this is not a joke. A volcano erupted while we were on the island. We’re at the hospital with severe burns.”

She has been frustrated by the lack of information from the cruise ship he was on and from authorities.

“I have not heard a word from the cruise people. I just want the word out there. I’m not really happy with how this has been handled,” she added.

A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand science agency GeoNet showed groups of people walking toward and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapor constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, was one of the tourists who made it off the island just before the eruption.

“This is so hard to believe,” Schade said in a video posted on Twitter as he sped away from the island by boat. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November due to an increase in volcanic activity.

The volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulfur miners. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, GeoNet said.

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

(Additionial reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5
By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20.

Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Rescue services have been unable to reach White Island as it remains too dangerous.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island.

“Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died…” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

“Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

St. John Ambulance said up to 20 people were believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Several people with burn injuries were brought by helicopter to Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after landing in Whakatane late on Monday.

Ardern was expected to give an update on the situation at a news conference set for 7 a.m. on Tuesday (1800 GMT on Monday).

“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”

Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, was one of the tourists who made it off the island just before the eruption.

“This is so hard to believe,” Schade said in a video posted on Twitter as he sped away from the island by boat. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand science agency GeoNet shows groups of people walking toward and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapor constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. Volcanologists said the ash plume shot 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Center.

“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.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November due to an increase in volcanic activity.

The White Island volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulfur miners. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, GeoNet said.

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

(For a graphic on ‘Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Hundreds of arrests as London climate-change activists vow more protests

By Simon Dawson Helena Williams

LONDON (Reuters) – London police have made nearly 500 arrests as climate-change protesters, labelled “uncooperative crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continue two weeks of civil disobedience to push for more to be done to protect the environment.

The Extinction Rebellion group has been taking action in several countries including Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, France and New Zealand as it lobbies politicians to go further in cutting carbon emissions.

The protests are the latest stage in a global campaign for tougher and swifter steps against climate change coordinated by the group, which rose to prominence in April when it snarled traffic in central London for 11 days.

Police said 152 arrests had been made on Tuesday, taking the total number over the two days to 471 as some protesters lay down in the road outside parliament whilst others dressed in colourful costumes or brought tree saplings to give to lawmakers.

Police have introduced stricter conditions, saying anyone wanting to continue the protest can only do so in Trafalgar Square.

“This action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing serious disruption to the community,” police said. “Anyone who fails to comply with the condition is liable to arrest and prosecution.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the protesters when he attended an event late on Monday.

“I am afraid the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties,” he said, using a slang term for eco-protesters.

“They said there was some risk that I would be egged,” he added.

On Tuesday, some protesters hit back at him.

“It’s not helpful,” Diana Jones, from the southern English county of Sussex, told Reuters.

“We’re just ordinary people trying to express our deep disappointment with how slow the process of getting climate change action to occur is taking place, with the government not really listening, not really taking it forward on the scale it needs to be taken.”

The group wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 rather than the government’s 2050 target.

(Additional reporting by Henry Nicholls and Ben Makori; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)

Lone wolf attackers inspire each other, NATO chief says

FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference after a NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Nations must work together to stop lone-wolf attackers, who take inspiration from each other, NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, during a visit to a mosque in New Zealand where a gunman killed dozens of people in March.

His comments came as the United States reels from two mass shootings at the weekend that killed 29 people and injured dozens in Texas and Ohio, provoking calls for tighter gun controls and prompting worries over a resurgence of white nationalism and xenophobic politics.

Stoltenberg, making a two-day trip to New Zealand, visited Christchurch, where 51 Muslim worshippers were killed in the attacks on two mosques by a suspected white supremacist.

“These attacks are committed by lone wolves but they are at the same time connected because they use each other as inspiration and they refer to each other in the different manifestos,” Stoltenberg told state broadcaster TVNZ.

“It highlights that we have to fight terrorism in many different ways, with many different tools.”

The Texas shooter who killed 20 people at a Walmart store expressed support for the Christchurch gunman in his manifesto.

New Zealand authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, a suspected white supremacist, with murder following the attacks. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Society has to stand up for values of freedom, openness and tolerance, Stoltenberg said.

“We see that many of the terrorists are one of us,” he said. “They are home-grown, they are coming from our own societies. So this is very much also about addressing the root causes.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is due to meet Stoltenberg on Tuesday, said New Zealand would only want to be remembered for the way it rejected the act of violence and hatred.

“This is a global challenge,” she told a news conference later in the day.

“Of course we can do what we can to defeat acts of hatred, violence and racism in our own domestic areas. But, as an international community, we should also be united against acts of hatred, violence and terrorism.”

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)