Jacinda Ardern leads New Zealand's minute of silence for Whakaari/White Island victims

| 16.12,19. 04:48 PM |

Jacinda Ardern leads New Zealand's minute of silence for Whakaari/White Island victims

Ms Ardern today commended the efforts of all New Zealanders involved in the repatriation effort. (ABC News)

New Zealanders across the country have observed a minute of silence to honour the victims of last week's fatal volcanic eruption, as police continue their efforts to recover two bodies.

The official death toll from the surprise eruption on Whakaari/White Island, stands at 16.

Two people, whose bodies are believed to be in the waters around the island, are still officially listed as missing.

A further 26 people remain in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia, many in critical condition with severe burn injuries.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led Monday's nationwide minute of silence, standing alongside her ministers at a Cabinet meeting in Wellington.

"Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt, and our support for their grieving families and friends," she said in a statement.

This followed an earlier tribute Ms Ardern posted on her official Instagram account, where she said those who were lost were "now forever linked to New Zealand".

"I want to pay tribute to the many people who did extraordinary things to save lives — whether it was through rescue efforts or the ongoing response by health professionals across the country," she said.

"To Ngāti Awa, for the outpouring of manaakitanga [welcome] and support to all that have needed a safe haven during this time."

She also commended the recovery team that travelled to the island despite serious risks that the volcano could erupt again, plus emergency management teams, councils and the local community.

Ash and other fallout from the eruption has made the sea near the island toxic and divers have to be washed clean after every completed dive.

The United States embassy in Wellington posted a photograph on Twitter of its staff, with heads bowed, before a US flag flying at half-mast.

Ardern announces $NZ5m fund for affected businesses

In a press conference after Monday's Cabinet meeting, Ms Ardern announced a $NZ5 million ($4.78 million) fund to help small businesses affected by the Whakaari/White Island disaster.

She said responses to past disaster events would inform the criteria that would determine which businesses were eligible.

"Particularly, this fund will focus on small businesses who may have been adversely affected," Ms Ardern said.

Whakatane, a town of 35,000 located in the eastern Bay of Plenty, has generated significant income from tourism.

Last year tours to Whakaari/White Island saw more than 17,000 visitors travel through the region.

The town's Mayor Judy Turner told the ABC last week volcanic island tours were an "anchor business" which other parts of the sector relied upon.

Ms Ardern also announced she had sought legal advice on whether or not there were any "gaps" in the WorkSafe and coronial investigations into the disaster.

Any identified gaps are expected to be revealed in the new year.

Australian families thank NZ authorities

New Zealand Police have confirmed the deaths of four more Australians in the White Island volcano eruption, as authorities regroup to consider how to recover two bodies believed to be remaining on the island.

Police said Monday morning Jessica Richards, 20, Jason Griffiths, 33, Martin Hollander, 48, and Kristine Langford, 45, had been confirmed dead in the disaster.

Soon after the identities of the four additional victims were confirmed, two families released statements expressing their heartbreak and sorrow at their loses.

On behalf of the Langford family, the statement read: "Anthony and Kristine, loving parents to Jesse and Winona, were a wonderful couple and devoted to both their immediate and extended families. They will be greatly missed by all who knew them".

"Winona is currently unaccounted for and Jesse is recovering in hospital, receiving excellent care."

The family of Karla Matthews also released a statement, saying that they were "absolutely heartbroken".

"We have an enormous sense of relief that she has finally been found and we patiently wait with the Elzer family for news of Karla's partner Rick so we are able to bring them home together."

"We would like to take this moment to express our deep gratitude to both the New Zealand and Australian governments for everything they have done for our family this past week. We would like to especially thank the New Zealand Police for their unwavering efforts towards reuniting all families with their lost loved ones."

Both families said they would make no further comment and asked for privacy.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne is visiting New Zealand to convey Australia's sincere condolences and gratitude for the efforts of all involved in the response to the disaster.


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