At least 1 tourist killed, dozens missing as New Zealand volcano suddenly erupts
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At least 1 tourist killed, dozens missing as New Zealand volcano suddenly erupts

White Island is uninhabited, but a popular tourist attraction, 50 kilometers (30 miles) off mainland; PM says 100 people were in ‘on or around’ site, incident ‘very significant’

This file photo taken on November 29, 1999 shows New Zealand's most active volcano on White Island in the Bay of Plenty giving off dense plumes of steam and gas. - New Zealand's White Island volcano erupted suddenly on December 9, 2019, prompting fears for a group of visitors seen walking on the crater floor moments before. (Photo by TORSTEN BLACKWOOD / AFP)
This file photo taken on November 29, 1999 shows New Zealand's most active volcano on White Island in the Bay of Plenty giving off dense plumes of steam and gas. - New Zealand's White Island volcano erupted suddenly on December 9, 2019, prompting fears for a group of visitors seen walking on the crater floor moments before. (Photo by TORSTEN BLACKWOOD / AFP)

A volcano on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists erupted with a large plume of ash and steam Monday, killing one person and leaving dozens of others missing or injured.

“I can confirm there is one fatality,” said deputy commissioner John Tims. “There is a number still remaining on the island who are currently unaccounted for,” he added. “At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island.”

He said 23 people had been taken from the island, including those with injuries. He was unclear about the number who remained and were unaccounted for but said the total number of people on the island when it erupted was fewer than 50.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said no Israelis were in the area, as far as is known.

The White Island volcano erupted suddenly, prompting fears for a group of visitors seen walking on the crater floor moments before.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said an unknown number people were unaccounted for after the eruption and that some 100 tourists were “on or around” the volcano when it erupted.

“Some of those, at this stage, are unaccounted for,” she said. ‘”A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore.”

She said the incident appeared to be “very significant.”

“All our thoughts are with those affected,” she said.

“It is very much an evolving situation and of course all our thoughts are with those affected,” she told reporters in Wellington, shortly after the eruption.

St John Ambulance said there were up to 20 people believed injured but medical teams were still en route.

The country’s National Emergency Management Agency said a “moderate volcanic eruption is occurring at White Island and is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano.”

In this image made from video, injured from White Island volcanic eruption are ferried into waiting ambulances in Whakatane, New Zealand, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. A volcano erupted Monday on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists, and a number of people were missing and injured after the eruption. (Katee Shanls/NZME via AP)

Cameras providing a live feed from the volcano showed more than half a dozen people walking inside the rim at 2:10 p.m. local time (0110 GMT), before images went dark when the eruption occurred minutes later.

The local mayor said she feared there had been “injuries” in the eruption.

“I’ve got limited understanding at present other than there’s been an eruption, that there have been some people who were on the island at the time, who have had some injuries,” Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner told Radio NZ.

“I’m not sure of the extent or nature of those injuries… emergency services are all waiting for them to be returned from the island so they can attend to them.”

The volcano is on White Island, northeast of the North Island town of Tauranga. It is regularly visited by small groups of tourists.

GeoNet agency said a moderate volcanic eruption had occurred and raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption.

Police were asking people to avoid areas on the North Island that were close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.

White Island sits about 50 kilometers (30 miles) offshore from mainland New Zealand.

GeoNet says it is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano and about 70 percent of the volcano is under the sea.

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulphur. 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.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.

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