Up to 20 people have been injured – some critically – after a volcano erupted off the coast of New Zealand.
The eruption happened at White Island, just off New Zealand‘s coastline, at about 2.15pm local time on Monday.
A second, slightly smaller eruption went off at 3.45pm, according to local fishermen.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the incident on Monday afternoon, saying: ‘At this stage we believe around 100 people were around or on the island at this stage not all of them are accounted for.’
A rescue operation is currently underway to save people who were pictured inside the crater at 2.10pm, minutes before the explosion, on the White Island Crater Rim camera.
Subsequent shots from the camera, displayed online every 10 minutes, show the blast rendered the camera inoperable.
Tourists from cruise liner Ovation of the Seas were visiting the island this morning, according toPort company chief executive Mark Cairns.
He said the majority of those injured in the eruption are from the ship.
Judy Turner, the Mayor of Whakatane confirmed tourists on the island have been injured.
A spokeswoman for Tourism Bay of Plenty said Volcanic Helicopters and one boat have still not been accounted for.
A White Island Tours boat carrying visitors was also close to the island, which is 48kms from the Bay of Plenty.
Calvin Kingi, who works for the tour company, posted on Facebook saying his group got out just in time.
‘White Island just erupted as we left, we have our work mates and a tour still on the island, I hope they okay,’ he wrote.
Some the people who were nearby have critical injuries, according to New Zealand Herald.
An emergency operation centre has reportedly been established at Whakatane Hospital.
Family members of people who were on the island at the time are slowly arriving on the wharf, waiting for any updates, according to local media.
Five rescue helicopters are on the way to the island while others situated nearby are on standby.
Thick, black plumes of smoke are still filling the sky around the island.
The Volcanic Alert Level is currently at a four, meaning it is the second highest warning level and considered to be a ‘moderate eruption.’
There is a ‘possibility of a very large eruption’ under the level four coding, as well as a further chance of a flank eruption, which is when simultaneous explosions occur around the volcano rather than from the summit alone.
Whakaari is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, and is also the nation’s most active, with regular eruptions since 2012.
The most recent eruption prior to today was minor, and occurred in 2016.
At least 70 per cent of the volcano is under sea level, and a single crater makes up most of the island, which is frequently visited by tourists.
Geological hazard trackers GeoNet had registered moderate volcanic unrest on the island for weeks, before the eruption began at 12:10pm AEDT.
A police spokesperson said there is no further information at this stage.
More to come.