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2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption facts for kids

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2019 Whakaari / White Island eruption
White Island 9 December 2019 eruption.jpg
Whakaari / White Island, nine minutes after the eruption
Volcano Whakaari / White Island
Date 9 December 2019 (2019-12-09)
Type Phreatic eruption
Location Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand
37°31′12″S 177°10′57″E / 37.52000°S 177.18250°E / -37.52000; 177.18250
Impact Fatalities: 21 (including 2 who are missing, declared dead)
Injuries: 26

The volcanic island Whakaari/White Island in New Zealand's northeastern Bay of Plenty region explosively erupted on 9 December 2019 at 2:11 pm NZDT.

There were 47 people on or near the island at the time. There were twenty one people killed, including two still missing believed to be dead. While twenty-six were injured, many critically.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that "the scale of this tragedy is devastating". New Zealand Police launched an investigation into the disaster, in conjunction with WorkSafe New Zealand.

Experts identified the event as a phreatic eruption: a release of steam and volcanic gases that caused an explosion, launching rock and ash into the air.


White Island 2013
Whakaari/White Island in 2013

The volcano has erupted many times in recent history, including several times in the 1980s. A major eruption formed a new crater in 2000, and small eruptions occurred in 2012, 2013, and 2016.

The volcano had been showing signs of unrest for several weeks before the 2019 eruption.

On 24 November, two weeks prior to the eruption, a 5.9 earthquake lasting approximately one minute with an epicentre located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northeast of White Island occurred, and was felt by people throughout New Zealand as far south as Christchurch.

Tourists regularly visit the island, primarily through White Island Tours.


White Island Crater Rim Webcam 9 December 2019
The crater rim, captured by webcam one minute before eruption. Hikers can be seen walking in the centre of the image.

The volcano erupted on 9 December 2019 at 14:11 NZDT (01:11 UTC). The ash plume rose to 3.7 kilometres (12,000 ft) into the air.

There were 47 people on the island at the time. Some of the people on the island at the time of the eruption were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, which was on a 12-day voyage around New Zealand and had berthed at Tauranga that morning.

Some visitors were waiting for vessels to take them off the island at the time of the eruption.

Tour operators and these vessels rescued 23 people from the island before it was officially declared unsafe.

Noticing the eruption from the mainland shore, three commercial helicopter pilots conducted rescue missions to the island in their helicopters, bringing back twelve survivors (five, five, and two, respectively). They observed several bodies in the area, but concentrated on bringing back the survivors.


The forty-seven people on the island at the moment of the eruption were identified as twenty-four Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Chinese, two Britons and one Malaysian. A passenger on a rescue boat stated that many of the injured had severe burns as many of them had worn just T-shirts and shorts for the day.

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