(Reuters) – A paramedic who flew to help victims of the New Zealand volcanic eruption said on Tuesday what he saw was a “shocking experience”, likening the scene on White Island to the recent TV drama mini-series “Chernobyl”.
“Everything was just blanketed in ash. It was quite an overwhelming feeling,” said Russell Clark.
The intensive care paramedic works with the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter emergency service, which was sent to Whakatane to assist in the rescue efforts. Whakatane, on the North Island’s east coast, is the main base for tours to White Island, about 50 km (30 miles) off the coast.
Clark said they had received reports of a number of casualties and multiple patients in boats as they flew to the island, and saw a heavily damaged helicopter as they arrived there.
“We were getting status updates so we knew there were high-acuity patients, very, very critical patients,” he said.
“We didn’t find any survivors on the island. And it was … It would’ve been quite traumatic for them.”
Around 30 people were earlier evacuated from the island, many with burns. Five people died and a further eight were missing, presumed dead a day after the eruption.
Tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China and Malaysia as well as New Zealanders were among the missing and injured, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the media earlier.