Paramedic Says NZ Volcano Scene Reminded Him Of Chernobyl

A New Zealand paramedic who was called to White Island after the volcano erupted on Monday said the scene reminded him of the Chernobyl disaster and he and his colleagues failed to find any survivors. 

Russell Clark told AP he was overwhelmed as he arrived at the disaster site,  about 48 kilometres from the east coast of the North Island, where at least five were killed and more badly injured.

As he approached the island along with other paramedics, reports were flowing of multiple casualties, and the feeling on their boat was not one of hope.

"We were getting status updates so we knew there were high acuity patients, very, very critical patients," he said.

"But in the back of our minds, we could see a massive plume of smoke coming from the island ..."

Paramedic Russell Clark described White Island as looking like Chernobyl after the volcano erupted on Monday. Image: AP

When the group arrived, Clark said he was 'overwhelmed' by what he saw.

It was like, I have seen the Chernobyl mini-series, and everything was just blanketed in ash.

"There was a helicopter on the island that had obviously been there at the time, with its rotor blades off it."

Clark said the island was coated in ash and dust,  and he was left thinking about what it would have been like for those caught in the disaster.

"It was quite devastating by the sounds of it," he said.

"We didn't find any survivors on the island. And it was ... yeah, it would've been quite traumatic for them."

Clark said he and his colleagues were not able to locate any survivors when they arrived on White Island Image: AP



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During a press conference on Tuesday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the nation's hospital system was so overwhelmed with victims many health professionals were yet to sleep or rest.

She praised the New Zealand people, especially the nation's first responders, for their willingness to help and their ability to jump into action at light speed.

"There is no limit to New Zealand's capacity to mobilise, to respond, to care and embrace those impacted by tragedy," she said.

Smoke billowing from the volcano site on Monday. Image: Michael Schade

"We are a nation full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things. I heard stories of, for instance, first responders, St John's, who boarded a coastguard vessel, made their way out to sea and boarded, in the middle of a journey, one of the vessels returning to the mainland in order to give first aid support as soon as they could.

"There were two of them amongst many, many injured at that time until they reached other first responders onshore."

Clark said surviving victims and their families would be recovering from the incident for a long time.

"Injuries are one thing, but then the emotional aspect is probably lifelong and not just for the victims, but also their families and their loved ones and extended families," he said.

"It is quite a traumatic experience and yeah, it's going to be ongoing."