Up to 13 feared dead in volcanic eruption off New Zealand

White Island is northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands. (AFP)
Updated 09 December 2019

Up to 13 feared dead in volcanic eruption off New Zealand

  • Police said the site was still too dangerous hours later for rescuers to search for the missing
  • The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: A volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted Monday with a towering blast of ash and scalding steam as dozens of tourists were exploring its moon-like surface, killing five people and leaving eight others missing and feared dead, authorities said.
Helicopter crews landed on White Island despite the danger and helped evacuate the dozens of survivors, some of them critically injured.
Hours after the disaster, authorities said the site was still too dangerous for rescuers to search for the missing. But aircraft flew over the island repeatedly, and “no signs of life have been seen at any point,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
The missing and injured included New Zealanders and tourists from the US, China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia, the prime minister said. Some of those who were exploring the volcano were passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, docked on neighboring North Island.

“My god,” Michael Schade tweeted as he posted video of the eruption. “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”
His video showed a wall of ash and steam around White Island and a helicopter heavily damaged and covered in ash. He said one woman was badly injured but seemed “strong” by the end.
The terrifying disaster immediately raised questions of why people were allowed to visit the island some 30 miles (50 kilometers) off mainland New Zealand after scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks. White Island is the tip of an undersea volcano.
Authorities said 47 people were on the island at the time. Some were walking along the rim of the crater just before the eruption. In addition to the dead and missing, 31 survivors were hospitalized and three others were released, officials said. Some of the victims were reported severely burned.
The eruption took place about 2 p.m. and consisted of two explosions in quick succession, the prime minister said. It sent a plume of steam and ash an estimated 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) into the air. One of the boats that returned from the island was covered with ash half a meter (yard) thick, Ardern said.
The GeoNet agency, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in New Zealand, had raised the alert level on White Island on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. It also said that volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength.
Ardern said White Island is a “very unpredictable volcano,” and questions about whether tourists should be visiting will have to be addressed, “but for now, we’re focused on those who are caught up in this horrific event.”
Brad Scott, a volcanologist with research group GNS Science, said the alert level on White Island is often raised and then dropped without any eruption. He said there hadn’t been any major problems with tourists visiting the island in the past, though there had been some close calls.
He would not venture an opinion on whether it was safe enough for tourists immediately before Monday’s eruption.
After the disaster, GeoNet raised its alert level to 4, later dropping it to 3.
“In the scheme of things, for volcanic eruptions, it is not large,” said Ken Gledhill from GeoNet. “But if you were close to that, it is not good.”
White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. About 70% of the volcano lies under the sea.
Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself.
The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.
The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 11 min 3 sec ago

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

 Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

 Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

 The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

 Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

 Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

 The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

 “Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

 “So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

 Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

 The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

 Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

 Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

 She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

 One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

 There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

 The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”