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Minute of silence held for New Zealand volcano victims as death toll stands at 16

Minute of silence held for New Zealand volcano victims
WATCH: New Zealanders across the country observed a minute of silence on Monday to honor the victims of last week’s fatal volcanic eruption, as police continued efforts to recover two bodies.

New Zealanders across the country observed a minute of silence on Monday to honor the victims of last week’s fatal volcanic eruption, as police continued efforts to recover two bodies.

The official death toll from the surprise eruption on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, stands at 16. Two people whose bodies are believed to be in the waters around the island are still officially listed as missing.

Australian foreign affairs minister visits New Zealand in wake of deadly volcano eruption, praises first responders
Australian foreign affairs minister visits New Zealand in wake of deadly volcano eruption, praises first responders

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

READ MORE: Rescuer describes horror in aftermath of New Zealand volcano eruption

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led Monday’s minute of silence, standing alongside her ministers in Wellington’s distinctive “Beehive” parliament building.

New Zealand volcano: Six bodies recovered from volcanic island
New Zealand volcano: Six bodies recovered from volcanic island

“Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close,” Ardern posted on her official Instagram account.

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A week ago New Zealand experienced the most extraordinary tragedy – an eruption on Whakaari/White Island while kiwi guides and guests from around the world were visiting. Lives were lost immediately, and in the days that have followed others have succumbed to their injuries. There are almost no words for the stories of both the aftermath and the loss that has followed. 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. To the recovery team who made it their mission to bring loved ones back from the island, right through to the council, emergency management team who have supported the local community all the way through. To Ngāti Awa, for the outpouring of manaakitanga and support to all that have needed a safe haven during this time. Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close. (Image: a photo I took while travelling out to Whakatane with our defence team. A beautiful outlook on a very sad day.)

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

Recovery teams who retrieved six bodies from the island on Friday, have so far been unsuccessful in locating the final two bodies despite several hours of searching over the weekend.

New Zealand officials say White Island volcano remains ‘highly volatile’
New Zealand officials say White Island volcano remains ‘highly volatile’

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said another aerial search would be conducted on Monday, to help naval divers form a plan for a further underwater search.

“We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” Bush told Radio New Zealand.

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The volcano, a popular destination for day-trippers, erupted last Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. The 47 people on the island when it erupted included 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, as well as others from the U.S., Germany, China, the U.K. and Malaysia.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern observes a moment of silence with her cabinet colleagues at the moment that a volcano erupted a week earlier, killing 18 people and leaving others with severe burns, in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern observes a moment of silence with her cabinet colleagues at the moment that a volcano erupted a week earlier, killing 18 people and leaving others with severe burns, in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. (Hagen Hopkins/Pool Photo via AP)

READ MORE: Crews fail to locate last 2 New Zealand volcano victims due to toxic ash, gas

CRUISE PASSENGERS ARRIVE HOME

Many of the dead and injured were Australians on a day tour to White Island from a Royal Caribbean Cruises’ ship that launched its tour of New Zealand’s famed sounds or fjords, lakes and volcanoes earlier this month from Sydney.

‘Indescribable’ Tourists capture moment volcano erupts on White Island in New Zealand
‘Indescribable’ Tourists capture moment volcano erupts on White Island in New Zealand

The 16-deck Ovation of the Seas docked back in Sydney on Monday, with some passengers disembarking in tears as they were reunited with family members.

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“So happy to be home,” Australian tourist Jo Anne Anderson told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “There are dead people, people who went on a trip of a lifetime, and they haven’t come home. It is dreadful.

READ MORE: 1,292 square feet of skin headed to New Zealand to treat volcano burn victims

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne is expected to arrive in New Zealand later on Monday for a meeting with Ardern to express Australia’s thanks to emergency and medical crews.

Legal experts said last week they expected to see lawsuits filed in the U.S. courts by injured passengers and families of those who died. There has been growing criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given the risks of an active volcano.

Investigations into New Zealand’s fatal volcano eruption may take a year: Ardern
Investigations into New Zealand’s fatal volcano eruption may take a year: Ardern

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s potential liability for the deadly excursion could hinge on whether the eruption was an unforeseeable “act of God,” maritime lawyers told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on criticisms from some passengers about the excursion and the cruise line’s handling of the aftermath of the tragedy.

“We will to continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.