At least five people were killed and more fatalities were likely after a volcano erupted off the east coast of White Island in New Zealand on Monday, AFP reported, quoting police.
“There is a number still remaining on the island who are currently unaccounted for,” Deputy Commissioner John Tims said. “At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island.”
In a statement at 12.12 am local time on Tuesday (4.42 pm Monday Indian time), the police said there were “no signs of life”. “The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF [New Zealand Defence Force] aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption,” the statement said, according to New Zealand Herald. “Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.” Officials said they did not think there were any survivors on the island.
Authorities are now trying to confirm the exact number of those killed in the disaster. They said that residents of the country and tourists were believed to be involved in the incident.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that some of those caught up in the disaster were foreigners.
Police said the eruption occurred at the Bay of Plenty around 2 pm local time. They said the initial count of people on the island was around 100, but it was later reduced to about 50.
“Some of those people have been transported to shore, however a number believed to be on the island are currently unaccounted for,” police said in a statement. “Of those transported to shore, at least one has been critically injured.”
The White Island or Whakaari is one of the country’s most active volcanoes. The location is a tourist destination with frequent day tours and scenic flights being available. A live feed from the region showed a group of tourists enter the crater before visuals went dark following the eruption, according to BBC.
The country’s National Emergency Management Agency issued a warning after the eruption. “Volcanic hazards may impact areas on and near the volcano,” the statement said, according to local news website SunLive. “Ashfall may impact areas distant from the volcano. People should stay out of designated restricted zones.”
The eruption threw up an ash plume around 12,000-foot-high, the country’s geoscience agency GNS Science said, adding that no signs of an escalation was seen at the moment.
The White Island has seen multiple eruptions over the years, but not when people were around. The region was in eruption between 1975 and 2000 – its longest period.