A volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday leaving at least one dead and seven tourists critically injured. Police said there could be more fatalities. 23 people have been transported to shore and over 27 remain on the island.
“We are working to confirm the numbers involved. At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island. However, we continue to assess the conditions which would allow us to go onto the island”, Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said.
CEO of the New Zealand Cruise Association Kevin O’Sullivan confirmed that 30 to 38 of the victims are passengers of the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
The eruption began about 2:11 p.m. local time (0111 GMT) on White Island, about 50 kilometres from the east coast of North Island, authorities said, sending up smoke visible from the mainland.
Police is working with National Emergency Management Agency to coordinate the search and rescue operation.
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 WhakatÄne, 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, Prime Minister Jacinta Arden said.
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.