New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island, erupted on Monday afternoon sending plumes of white smoke and debris into the air as a number of tourists visited the popular island.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a number of people were unaccounted for after the eruption, which took place at about 2.11pm local time (01:11 GMT).
GeoNet agency, which had been monitoring the rumbling volcano, raised their alert level to four out of a maximum five.
A statement from New Zealand Police said there were thought to be about 50 people on the island at the time of the eruption.
“Some of those people have been transported to shore, however a number believed to be on the island are currently unaccounted for,” the statement said.
“Of those transported to shore, at least one has been critically injured.”
The police, which is working with the National Emergency Management Agency on search and rescue, said a press conference on the eruption would be held at 6.30pm local time.
New Volcanic Alert Bulletin issued for Whakaari/White Island. This week we've observed regular bursts of steam and gas-driven fountaining – seen in this volcano cam pic from 1 December. Current activity still within bounds of moderate unrest. https://t.co/eKom1rhxl7 pic.twitter.com/COBgsgjSIp
— GeoNet (@geonet) December 3, 2019
Rachel Jackson-Lees, a journalist with Newstalk ZB in New Zealand told Al Jazeera that operators taking tourists to the volcano – New Zealand’s most active – analysed the risks on a daily basis.
The island also has a container where people can take shelter in the event of an eruption, she said.
“It is no uncommon to hear of White Island eruptions,” Jackson-Lees said. “What is uncommon is the level of intensity. It was classed as a level four (five is the highest). We get minor eruptions all the time but it’s been some time since we had anything of this level and we certainly haven’t had any casualties.”
White Island sits northeast of the town of Tauranga on New Zealand’s North Island.
About 70 percent of the volcano is under the sea and at least 10,000 people go to see it every year.
(SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)