New Zealand Volcano Vents Steam, Death Toll Now at 16

by Nick Perry

Associated Press

Wednesday December 11, 2019

As a New Zealand island volcano vented more steam and mud, authorities delayed plans to recover the bodies of victims from a deadly eruption and announced Thursday that the death toll rose after two people who had been hospitalized died.

Volcanic tremors on White Island were intensifying to a level not seen since an eruption in 2016, the GeoNet seismic monitoring agency said, calculating a 40% to 60% chance of another eruption within the next 24 hours.

The deaths of the two came after authorities said they had confirmed that six people died and and that the bodies of eight other people are believed to remain on the ash covered island. Many of those who survived the volcanic blast suffered horrific burns. Another 28 people remain hospitalized, including 23 in critical condition

Meanwhile, Australia was sending a military plane to bring some of the Australians injured in the eruption to Australia for specialist medical care. Authorities expected to transport 10 injured patients to New South Wales and Victoria states, beginning Thursday.

Monday's eruption sent a tower of steam and ash an estimated 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) into the air. Many of the injured suffered severe burns, were in critical condition and were being treated at hospital burn units around New Zealand.

GeoNet said in an early evening update that shallow magma within the volcano appeared to be driving the increased activity. It also said there was a low risk to the mainland. The volcano is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off New Zealand's main North Island.

Police believe 47 visitors were on the island at the time of the eruption, 24 of them Australian, nine Americans, five New Zealanders and others from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

Survivors ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, said those who first helped them. Geoff Hopkins watched the eruption from a boat after visiting the island and told the New Zealand Herald the eruption quickly turned menacing.

He told the paper that injured people transported on their boat were horrifically burned on their exposed skin and even under their clothes.

The first confirmed death was of a local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide who had shown tourists around the island. Former Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said Marshall-Inman was a keen fisherman and well-liked.

In the town touted as the gateway to White Island, the volcano has an almost mystical significance, its regular puffing a feature of the landscape. Whether the island, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, will ever host tourists again remains uncertain.

Many people were questioning why tourists were allowed to visit the island after seismic monitoring experts raised the volcano's alert level last month.

The island had been mined for sulfur until a 1914 accident in which at least 10 people were killed, and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953.

Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.
Grewal said that within seconds of pulling up to the market, Anderson got out with a rifle and immediately began shooting, and Graham followed him into the store. He would not say whether Graham had a weapon.

A pipe bomb was found in the attackers' van, FBI agent Gregory Ehrie said.

Mayor Steven Fulop noted that surveillance video of the van showed the assailants driving slowly through the city's streets and then stopping outside the grocery, where they calmly got out of their van and promptly opened fire.

"There were multiple other people on the street, so there were many other targets available to them that they bypassed to attack that place, so it was clear that was their target and they intended to harm people inside," the mayor said of the attackers.

But Fulop cautioned: "I didn't use the word `anti-Semitic.' Anything else is open for investigation."

The drawn-out battle with police filled the streets with the sound of high-powered rifle fire and turned the city into what looked like a war zone, with SWAT officers in full tactical gear swarming the neighborhood.

Five bodies were found at the store: the killers and three people who were inside at the time. Police said they were confident the bystanders were shot by the gunmen and not by police.

Two of the victims at the store were identified by members of the Orthodox Jewish community as Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery, and 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there. The Ferencz family had moved to Jersey City from Brooklyn. The third victim was identified by authorities as Miguel Douglas, 49.

A fourth person managed to escape from the store, Grewal said.

Jewish leaders and the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic attacks, expressed concern about the deaths.

"The report from the Jersey City mayor saying it was a targeted attack makes us incredibly concerned in the Jewish community," said ADL regional director Evan Bernstein. "They want answers. They demand answers. If this was truly a targeted killing of Jews, then we need to know that right away, and there needs to be the pushing back on this at the highest levels possible."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on MSNBC that the attack was "clearly a hate crime," while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pronounced it a "deliberate attack on the Jewish community." They announced tighter police protection of synagogues and other Jewish establishments in New York as a precaution.

In the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue north of San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.

The kosher grocery is a central fixture in a growing community of Orthodox Jews who have been moving to Jersey City in recent years and settling in what was a mostly black section of Jersey City, causing some resentment.

Mordechai Rubin, a member of the local Jewish emergency medical services, said the small Jewish community has grown over the past three or four years, made up mostly of people from Brooklyn seeking a "nicer, quieter" and more affordable place to live. Next to the store is a synagogue with a school and day care center where 40 students were present at the time of the shooting, he said.

"It's unfortunate what happened, but we don't even want to think about what would have happened if they made their way up to the day care or to the synagogue," he said.

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