The country’s science agency, GeoNet, said a volcano erupted on White Island, a small tourist site about 30 miles offshore of mainland New Zealand, shortly after 2 p.m. The agency issued a level 4 volcanic alert at the time (a level 5, the highest on the scale, represents a “major eruption”), saying the event was a short-lived one that sent ash about 12,000 feet into the sky.
“Ash has covered the main crater floor as seen in our webcam images,” GeoNet said. “Ash fall appears to be confined to the island. … There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during a news briefing about 100 people were on or near the island when the volcano erupted, some of whom may be missing. Officials with the New Zealand Police later said there were less than 50 people around the volcano.
“Some of those, at this stage, are unaccounted for,” Ardern said of the tourists. ’“A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore.”
At least one person sustained critical injuries, police said.
Ardern said the situation was evolving, but called the eruption a “very significant issue.” A no-fly zone has been established in the area.
GeoNet notes White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and about 70 percent of the structure is under the sea. 12 people were killed on the island in 1914 when part of the crater wall collapsed, causing a landslide that destroyed a sulphur mine and a village.
The site is privately owned, but is now a private scenic reserve that allows about 10,000 people to visit annually.
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