Five people have been confirmed dead after a huge volcanic eruption on White Island, New Zealand.
Around 100 tourists were on or near the island at the time but only 23 have been rescued so far. Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said that some of those rescued were injured.
He said he did not know how many people were still unaccounted for, but he believes there were fewer than 50 people actually on the island in the Bay of Plenty when it erupted.
Michael Schade wrote on Twitter: ‘My god. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.’
Mr Tims said it was too dangerous for police and rescue services to travel to the island but they wanted to urgently get back as quickly as they could.
Royal Caribbean International said guests from its cruise ship Ovation of the Seas had been visiting White Island.
The company said: ‘A number of our guests were touring the island today. ‘We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers.’
The company statement said the ship would remain there overnight until it learned more on the situation.
He said there had been no contact with those who remained missing on the island.
Police said in a statement: ‘There remain a number of people on the island who are unaccounted for.’
His video showed a wall of ash and steam around the island and helicopters badly damaged and covered in ash. St John medical responders said they believed there were 20 people on the island who were injured and in need of medical treatment. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the incident appeared to be ‘very significant’.
Speaking about tourists believed to be on or near the island at the time of the eruption, she said: ‘Some of those, at this stage, are unaccounted for.
‘A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore. All our thoughts are with those affected.’
Ms Ardern said there were no confirmed fatalities. St John said it had dispatched seven helicopters to the island, which sits about 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand.
There will be questions asked as to why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity. White Island is northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands.
The 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.
GeoNet said it was New Zealand’s most active cone volcano and about 70% of the volcano is under the sea.
Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulphur, as 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.