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New Zealand Volcano Update


Recovery teams in New Zealand are getting ready for what could be a dangerous rescue mission. Here's Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement.


MIKE CLEMENT: There is not a zero risk with regards to this plan. It does come with risk.

KING: He says specialists from New Zealand's military will try to recover the bodies of eight people who were buried under ash after a volcano erupted on White Island. Those people are believed to be dead. Eight other people are confirmed dead, and more than 20 people are in intensive care with severe burns.

Charlotte Graham-McLay is a reporter for The Guardian. She's in New Zealand's capital, Wellington. Hi, Charlotte.


KING: So we are hearing there from officials that this rescue mission could be risky. What makes it so?

GRAHAM-MCLAY: Well, the scientists who are calculating the risk alert said today, and I quote, "today is less safe than yesterday and less safe than the day before that." They say that there's a 50% to 60% chance of another eruption on White Island in the next 24 hours. So in about six to eight hours, when New Zealand Defence Force personnel go to that island, providing the weather and the conditions work out, they will be prepared for every eventuality, including very high levels of gas, and including potentially another eruption.

But the police have come under extraordinary pressure this week from the families and from the public to retrieve those eight bodies. To the extent that the officer in charge, who you've just been hearing from a moment ago, also said that haste may mean that they are not able to preserve all of the identifying markers needed for full identification of those bodies.

KING: Oh, my goodness.

GRAHAM-MCLAY: So that's an unenviable trade-off they may have to make, but they have put the priority on getting those bodies back. At least six of them - they know where six of those people are. They actually don't know where the other two people unaccounted for on the island are, and they have said that they will look for them if they have time. But it's really going to be a get in, get out situation so that they don't put more lives at risk.

KING: Working on a very tight clock there.


KING: What do we know at this point, Charlotte, about the victims?

GRAHAM-MCLAY: It's a tricky situation because we don't have confirmed who exactly is in hospital, and there were people taken to hospitals without identification and in some cases unable to speak. We last heard, for example, that an American couple on their honeymoon were both in hospital, but we don't know any more about their conditions.


GRAHAM-MCLAY: The police have released nine names who we know are either part of the eight known to have died or the eight unaccounted for on the island. So there are a couple of New Zealand guides who we know have died. And then there are a number of people from Australia - a father and his 15-year-old stepdaughter, a mother and her 20-year-old daughter are known to have died, an Australian couple in their early 30s and, very sadly, two teenage Australian brothers who both died in different hospitals last night.

KING: And, Charlotte, just very quickly, I know you've been looking into the accident compensation system in New Zealand - what it might mean for victims. What have you found?

GRAHAM-MCLAY: There is basically a system that pays for anyone's treatment who's injured in New Zealand, even if you're a foreigner, even if you don't have health insurance. So that's great. But the flip side of that is that it's a no-fault system, which means that you cannot sue anyone in New Zealand for negligence because you've been covered by that system.

KING: Guardian reporter Charlotte Graham-McLay on Skype from New Zealand. Thanks so much.

GRAHAM-MCLAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.