New Zealand Charges 13 Parties Over 2019 White Island Volcano Eruption That Killed 22 People

The eruption of the volcano on White Island in New Zealand (AP)

New Zealand’s government has filed charges over the volcano eruption that killed 22 people on White Island last year, saying operators that brought tourists to see the country’s most active volcano failed to follow health and safety rules.

Officials say 47 people were on the island when the volcano erupted in the early afternoon of Dec. 9, sending a plume of ash, toxic gas and rocks some 12,000 feet into the sky. Rescue crews rushed to find survivors, and recovery teams spent roughly two weeks trying to find victims.

The eruption was unexpected, but it wasn’t unforeseeable, according to WorkSafe New Zealand, the country’s workplace safety agency.

“Those who went to the island, did so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems in place to ensure they made it home healthy and safe,” WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes said in a statement issued Monday.

The eruption was a “hydrothermal explosion,” the U.S. Geological Survey determined.

“The volcano had been showing signs of unrest for several weeks before the December 9, 2019, explosion,” the USGS said. “In October, seismic tremors and sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas emission rates were at their highest levels since 2016, indicating an increased likelihood of an eruption.”

Everyone who was on White Island that day suffered “serious injuries and trauma,” WorkSafe said. Survivors endured major burns to their skin and lungs.

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SOURCE: NPR, Bill Chappell