Key Points:

    KEY POINTS:
  • Five people confirmed dead and eight are missing, presumed killed
  • 34 people rescued from the island, many with severe burns - 31 remain in hospital
  • Police say there are no further signs of life
  • Many of the victims are foreign tourists, including from Australia, US, UK, Malaysia and China
  • NZ Defence Force to approach island at first light today
  • Drones due to be deployed to assess environment

Family and friends of a missing White Island guide are praying desperately for his return from the volcano.

The Herald understands Tīpene Maangi, from Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Porou iwi, was among the people on the island when it erupted.

Police have said there are "no signs of life" on the island and they believe anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of Monday's evacuation.

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Maangi's grandmother, who did not want to be named, was at Whakatāne Wharf early this morning waiting for news of her 24-year-old mokopuna.

Tipene Maangi's family was still holding out hope. Photo / Facebook
Tipene Maangi's family was still holding out hope. Photo / Facebook

She said he had started with White Island Tours in September and loved his job.

"We're hoping he may have found a cave but knowing him, he would have been helping others before he thought about himself."

Maangi's grandmother said she had travelled to Whakatāne from the East Coast yesterday when she heard the news that the island had erupted.

She said family were holding out hope.

"We have to, don't we? I haven't been listening to the news at all, I don't want to."

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Shaniah Semmens, who has been friends with Maangi since they were young children, said he had only been in the job for about a month and revealed that they had both applied for the same position going at White Island Tours.

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"He suits this job. I was mad at him because I applied for it too and I messaged him, and I was like: 'You were supposed to leave that job for me'!

"And he just reckons: 'Oh, I must've been better'. I [said]: 'Oh, that sums you up'," she joked.

She described him as a very cool, caring and funny person who was well-loved.

When news about the volcanic eruption broke yesterday, she sent her friend a message after work.

Missing: Tīpene Maangi pictured with friend Shaniah Semmens at their school ball in 2011. Photo / Supplied
Missing: Tīpene Maangi pictured with friend Shaniah Semmens at their school ball in 2011. Photo / Supplied

'I WOULD RATHER IT HAVE BEEN ME OUT THERE

':

"I said: 'Hey, are you alright'?"

She was up early - about 6am - this morning to check her messages. But she had received nothing.

"I was up checking my messenger and my mum had told me that nobody had heard from him yet. So I'm just waiting."

Asked what it was like to hear that her mate was among those missing, she said there had been a lot of tears.

"I cried from 6 this morning until about 8[am]. It was hard. But everyone is just being hopeful, really," she said.

"I would rather it have been me than him out there."

Dozens of family and friends have posted to social media praying to Whakaari/White Island to give Maangi back to them.

"Give us back our whanauanga. It's time to come my bro our 'koro' Tipene Maangi," one said.

"We won't lose hope on you. Praying to hear you get off that ashy volcano today…. Hoki mai e hoa, nui te aroha."

Maangi's grandmother was at Whakatāne Wharf this morning waiting for news of her 24-year-old grandson. Photo / Facebook
Maangi's grandmother was at Whakatāne Wharf this morning waiting for news of her 24-year-old grandson. Photo / Facebook

Many spoke of Maangi's generous nature, saying - like his grandmother - he probably put others before himself.

"He probably made all the other people get off first and then keeping the rest of their spirits high," one friend wrote.

"Omg I hope he comes home. Thoughts are with all the whanau," said another.

Another friend said: "Make sure those choppers, drones or boats see you. Time to come home xx."

At a press conference this morning, police said five people had been confirmed dead, 31 were in hospital and eight were missing. The victims were New Zealanders, Australians, Americans, English, Chinese and Malaysians.

Some worked in the tourism industry.

White Island erupted at 2.11pm yesterday. Photo / George Novak
White Island erupted at 2.11pm yesterday. Photo / George Novak

A handful of locals have gathered at the wharf this morning to hear any news or developments. Some have stopped in to have a look on their morning walk or run.

Maori wardens Rawinia Teepe, from Taneatua, and Alex Walker, from Te Teko, have been at the wharf all night.

Panelbeater Mike Fair is down at the scene.

He said people were made aware it was an active volcano before they visited.

"It's a risk you take. The tour guides aren't silly. If they knew it was going to go they wouldn't have gone.

"It's just wrong place, wrong time."

Fair said his heart sank when he saw images of the survivors on television, "and now the shock hits".

The wharf entrance has been blocked off to keep the public and media out while crews come and go from the area.

White Island Tours Ltd released a media statement late last night, saying it was "deeply saddened" at the volcano's significant eruption.

"Devastation is an understatement," said chairman Paul Quinn.

"This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted."

Quinn said the company's immediate focus was on supporting the staff, manuhiri and respective whānau, who had been "significantly impacted were showing immense strength and courage".

White Island Tours was also assisting police and Civil Defence with the official emergency response, Quinn said.

"We acknowledge the considerable efforts from Police and Civil Defence and will continue to do whatever is necessary throughout the rescue operation."

The Police Disaster Identification (DVI) team are assembling in Whakatāne to await deployment.

A RNZN ship will approach the perimeter of the island at first light on Tuesday and deploy drones and observational equipment to further assess the environment as part of the recovery, the statement said.

The 105 police number can be used to submit information regarding friends or family who might have been visiting White Island during the eruption and those overseas can call People from +64 9105 105.