Volcano Erupts in New Zealand: Five Confirmed Dead, Dozens 'Unaccounted For'
50 tourists on White Island when eruption started, only 23 rescued so far
A volcano has erupted in New Zealand, killing at least five people while dozens more are still "unaccounted for."
Authorities have confirmed five deaths so far but warn they will likely discover more fatalities as the rescue operation continues.
The volcano started erupting around 2.11 pm local time on White Island - an active andesite stratovolcano, situated 48 km from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand.
Police said they are attempting to rescue up to 50 people from the island, which is uninhabited but frequented by tourists.
So far, only 23 people have been rescued, while five are confirmed dead and the rest are yet to be found.
Those rescued have mostly been transferred to hospital suffering from burns.
Police also said that it is too dangerous to search the island following the eruption, but a statement from St John Ambulance said it had now dispatched paramedics on helicopters and was aiming to establish a triage unit on the island.
The New Zealand Defence Force has also been dispatched to the area to help emergency services.
Police said one person who has been confirmed as dead was rescued from the island.
They did not know if they were a New Zealander or not.
Officers are hoping to locate the people who are unaccounted for through the passenger list from the cruise ship where many of the tourists had come from.
They added that they do not expect any significant impact on New Zealand's North Island, one of the country's two main islands, which is about 30 miles (50km) west of White Island - also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.
Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the incident appeared to be "very significant."
"A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore," she said.
The GeoNet agency said a moderate volcanic eruption had occurred, throwing smoke and debris about 12,000ft (3,660m) into the air, and raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption.
Dr. Ken Gledhill, a technical adviser at GNS Science, said it was "not a particularly big eruption" and was "almost like a throat-clearing kind of eruption which is why material won't make it to the mainland."
"For volcanic eruptions, it's not large but if you were close it's not good," he added.
"It's shown increased activity over the past few weeks so we raised the alert.
"We can't be certain there won't be another eruption in the next 24 hours."
There will be questions asked as to why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.
Royal Caribbean, whose cruise ship was visiting the mainland, had passengers on an excursion to the volcano.
A spokesperson for the company said: "We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today.
"We do not have any additional details to share at this time."
Police have told people to avoid areas on North Island that are close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.
A no-fly zone has also been established.
Footage from the scene shows walls of ash and smoke rising from the island, as well as a helicopter damaged in the eruption, laid on the ground.
White Island is New Zealand's most active cone volcano and about 70% of the volcano is under the sea.
Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur.
Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself.
The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction, according to GeoNet.
The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.