A toddler who has spent her whole life in a detention centre is now facing being separated from her mother. Huyen Tran escaped from Vietnam due to religious persecution and arrived in Australia by boat as an asylum seeker in 2011.
In his first interview with a western news outlet, Mr Khangoshvili’s brother, Zurab, 46, said that he had received intelligence that his own life was in danger. “I was asked to be careful,” he said. “I don’t go out alone.”
The brothers, ethnic Chechens from the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia, worked with the Georgian intelligence service to root out Russian spies and jihadists in their homeland after taking part in the Chechen insurgency against Russia until 2004. When it became clear that their lives were in danger they fled to seek asylum in Europe.
Rescuers have so-far been unable to get on to the island due to fears of landslides and further eruptions, but said a number of rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out aerial reconnaissance flights overhead.
Officials said early on Tuesday that ‘no signs of life have been seen at any point’ and they are not expecting to find anyone else alive. That means the death toll could be as high as 32.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who visited the nearby coastal town of Whakatāne on Monday evening, said the situation was “significant and evolving”.
John Tims, the deputy police commissioner of district operations, said at least two dozen people remained on the island, but he could not be sure of the exact number. “The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island,” he said.
Mr Tims said experts had told them the island remained unstable but search and rescue teams wanted to get back as quickly as they could. He said there had been no contact with any of those who were missing.
He said both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those who were dead, missing or injured. He said most of the 18 who survived were injured and some had suffered severe burns.