Families face painful wait as volcano rescue stalls

Sydney (AFP) –


More than 24 hours after New Zealand's White Island volcano erupted, families around the world are still waiting for answers about their loved ones, with the island deemed too dangerous to search.

Thirteen people are dead or missing, but on-island recovery efforts are on hold as scientists say the volcano has a 50 percent chance of erupting again within the next 24 hours.

Police want to deploy drones to measure toxic gas levels in the island's atmosphere and determine whether it is safe to return, but windy conditions have so far prevented them from being flown.

"We can never say 100 percent, but I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island," deputy commissioner John Tims said.

Among the 47 people caught on the island during the sudden eruption were 24 tourists from Australia, nine from the United States, two from Britain, two from China, four from Germany and one from Malaysia, as well as five locals.

There are 34 confirmed survivors, with 27 receiving treatment in New Zealand hospitals for burns to more than 71 percent of their bodies.

Families of some missing tourists and guides say they have not yet received any news from authorities about the fate of their relatives.

Adelaide man Brian Dallow said he was desperately concerned about his son Gavin, daughter-in-law Lisa, and her 15-year-old daughter Zoe Hosking.

"All we know at the moment is they were on the island and they've been confirmed as missing," he told AFP. "As far as we know they didn't get back on the ship last night."

"We've been in touch with just about everybody on this Earth I think -- we registered with Foreign Affairs, we registered with the Red Cross ... We registered with everybody we can."

Also among those missing is New Zealander Tipene Maangi, a tour guide in his early 20s, whose family were holding out hope that he was still alive.

"They have said that those that are on the island there are no survivors, and we are not sure if our nephew is over there on the island or if he is in one of the hospitals," his aunt, Jaqueline, told TVNZ.

"So we are hopeful that he's one of them that's in the hospitals and we will soon know."

"We are scared and are emotional and some of us do want to fall apart, but it's not really an option. We have to stay strong."

New Zealand officials said they were doing everything possible to hasten recovery efforts and support families.

"We absolutely believe that everyone that could be taken from the island yesterday were rescued at the time of the evacuation," police deputy commissioner Tims told reporters in Wellington.

"We understand the desire from the locals and the loved ones, to remove their family from the island," he added. "We are working around the clock."