New Zealand PM warns of year-long inquiry as country marks one week since deadly volcano eruption

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, said on Monday that investigations into the deaths caused by the White Island eruption could take a year, and may result in criminal penalties of up to five years in jail.

An investigation is being conducted on behalf of the coroner, parallel to an investigation by WorkSafe, New Zealand’s occupational health and safety watchdog.

Ms Ardern made the comments after New Zealanders observed a minute’s silence for the victims of the tragedy.

The prime minister also announced NZ$5 million (almost £2.5 million) in funding to assist small businesses in the area who are likely to suffer an adverse impact from a decline in tourism, and also to help small businesses on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island who were cut off by flooding last week.

One week on from the eruption of White Island, at least sixteen people have been confirmed dead, 14 remain in burns units across several New Zealand hospitals and 12 more are in hospitals in Australia.

Ten of the 14 victims in New Zealand are in critical condition.

The bodies of two people are still missing.

New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims, National Operations Commander, said the Police Eagle helicopter conducted aerial surveillance of White Island on Monday and took updated images “of the recovery area and surrounding environment”.

“Two of the police staff deployed to the island yesterday (Sunday) went as observers (supporting the New Zealand Defence Force). A debrief was also conducted today to review the operation to date and plan next steps,” he said.

“The Police National Dive Squad did not go into the water today as they were involved in the debrief. Police expect to provide media a further update on Tuesday.”

In the morning, police had said they were “now in the position to formally release further names of victims who died and have been identified following the volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island”.

Australians Jessica Richards, aged 20, Jason David Griffiths, 33, Martin Berend Hollander, 48, and Kristine Elizabeth Langford, 45, were named.

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