‘Sudden’ volcano eruption in New Zealand kills five, several missing
TAURANGA, New Zealand (Reuters) – At least five people were killed, up to 20 injured and several reported missing after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island on Monday.
Police said more casualties were feared on White Island, where the volcano erupted at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.
About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, were feared to have been nearby and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.
Many day tours visit the island regularly, and one from the Ovation of the Seas cruise liner was there at the time.
Earlier, about 100 people were feared to have been nearby. “We believe 100 people were on or around the island,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, adding that a rescue operation had begun, although it was too early to confirm any injuries or deaths.
“A number of people are reportedly injured and are now being transported to shore,” she added. “It does appear to be a very significant issue…particularly the scale of people affected, at this stage.” Many of those affected could be tourists, she said.
“I’m not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care,” said Judy Turner, the mayor of the coastal town of Whakatāne, near White Island.
“There were some injuries and the focus is on getting these injured people back safely and to get them to a hospital.”
There seemed to be no danger for people in coastal areas farther away, she added.
The island’s immediate surroundings were hazardous because of the eruption, the National Emergency Management Agency said in an statement, adding that falling ash might affect some areas.
The “short-lived eruption” threw an ash plume about 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, New Zealand’s geoscience agency GNS Science said in a statement, but added there were no current signs of an escalation.
The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active.