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'Everything was blanketed in ash' - Paramedic who travelled to White Island describes 'traumatic' experience

Russell "Rusty" Clark, an intensive care paramedic for Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, was part of the first response effort to yesterday's natural disaster and told 1 NEWS what he saw was like scenes from the TV.

"When we got there, it was quite an experience - it was what I've seen in the Chernobyl mini-series," Mr Clark said.

"Everything was just blanketed in ash. It was quite an overwhelming feeling - there was a helicopter on the island that had obviously been there at the time and its rotor blades were off it.

"It's quite a shocking experience."

Shortly after arriving, Mr Clark and the rest of the team immediately got to work.

"I didn't see patients myself but the crew that we did drop off did find some patients... it was quite devastating [because] we didn't find any survivors.

"It would've been quite traumatic for them."

Mr Clark said it'll take some time for everyone involved yesterday to take in what they saw.

"Being a family man with two kids, it sort of hits home very quickly," he said.

"Even from the outset, the sheer scale of it is enormous and the amount of families and victims that are involved is huge - we're talking potentially a lot of people involved.

"I feel for their families... there's going to be a huge healing process and it's going to be a long time and a lot of work to be done."

Five people have been confirmed dead so far but a further eight people are still missing with today's operations now a recovery effort, not a rescue mission.