At least one person has died while tens of others remain unaccounted for after a volcano erupted Monday on an island off New Zealand's North Island, police said.
Less than 50 people, many of them tourists, are understood to have been on or in the vicinity of White Island at the time of the eruption, roughly half of were evacuated, Kyodo News reports.
I can confirm there is one fatality," New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims told a press conference in Wellington. "Based on information we have, there is likely to be more."
Tims said police have been unable to confirm how many people are still on the island as police and emergency services are unable to access the area due to safety concerns, including the risk of more eruptions and volcanic gasses.
The deputy commissioner said 23 people have been taken from the island, many of whom were taken to the hospital to be treated for burns. He was unable to confirm the number of people injured.
Local media reported that a webcam used to monitor seismic activity on the island spotted people walking near the crater just minutes before the eruption.
New Zealand's geological hazard monitoring system, GeoNet, described the eruption as an "impulsive, short-lived event" that began at 2:11 p.m. local time, sending an ash plume roughly 3,600 meters into the air.
Speaking at an earlier press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the eruption was a "significant issue," particularly the scale of those affected.
Ardern said she will travel to the Bay of Plenty region later Monday.
I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who have loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them police are doing everything they can," she said.
Some of the tourists on or near the island were reportedly passengers from a cruise ship docked at Tauranga, a coastal city on North Island, about 50 kilometers southwest of White Island.
White Island also known as Whakaari in the local indigenous Maori language -- is New Zealand's most active cone volcano and is a popular tourist destination with over 10,000 people visiting each year through daily tours of the site.
Source: Kazinform News Agency
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