Ardern to consider major volcano probe

The eruption of the volcano on White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand.
The eruption of the volcano on White Island off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will decide early next year whether to launch a major probe - and possibly a royal commission - into Monday's terrifying and deadly volcano eruption.

The primary consideration is whether an already-running workplace inquiry and the yet-to-be-launched coronial inquest leaves "any gaps" for questions as to how the tragedy occurred.

A week after the blast, the death toll stands at 16, with a further two people unaccounted for.

Ardern says she's been advised that the WorkSafe investigation will take a year - which is also the legislated maximum time the workplace health and safety regulator has before recommending possible charges.

The penalties for those charges are capped at $NZ3 million ($A2.9 million) and up to five years in prison.

"As a cabinet we know that it's possible there will be broader issues that won't be covered by these inquiries," the prime minister said.

"Therefore I have asked for advice from officials to look into whether there are any gaps that need to be addressed that fall outside of a potential coronial inquiry and the WorkSafe investigation.

"I expect advice on this in the new year."

Ardern also announced a $NZ5 million ($A4.8 million) relief fund for small businesses in both Whakatane and Westland - a South Island tourist town hit by flooding - to help make ends meet after their disasters.

"I don't see this necessarily being the totality of the need but we wanted to make sure that we are working to address immediate needs," she said.

It remains unclear whether any operators that may be the subject of the WorkSafe investigation - like White Island Tours - will be a recipient of those funds.

Australian Associated Press