At least 5 dead after volcano erupts on popular tourist island in New Zealand

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According to Accuweather, emergency crews scrambled to a popular tourist island off the coast of New Zealand on Monday afternoon, local time, as a volcano erupted and left at least five people dead and even more injured or missing.

The unexpected eruption occurred on White Island, also known as Whakaari, which sits about 30 miles (48 km) offshore from mainland New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty.

Fewer than 50 people were believed to be on or near the island when the volcano rumbled to life, according to Radio New Zealand.

Twenty-three people have been rescued from the island, and five of those have died, according to local authorities. The remaining 18 survivors have all endured some degree of injury, with some suffering severe burns.

At a press conference late Monday, New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims estimated that at least 10 people were still missing on the island.

By Monday evening, search and rescue efforts were stalled with authorities deeming the island too dangerous.

“The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island,” Tims said. “It’s important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we’re taking advice from experts going forward.”

However, shortly after midnight Tuesday local time, the police issued an update where they said they do not believe there are any survivors on the island and were working to confirm the exact number of those that died, in addition to the five fatalities already confirmed.

A number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island allowed the police to determine that there were no remaining survivors.

Officials believe that anyone who could’ve been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of evacuation.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said.

A New Zealand Defense Force ship will approach the perimeter of the island at first light Tuesday to deploy drones and observational equipment to further examine the area, officials said.

Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to be involved, according to the police.

Michael Schade, a tourist on the island around the time of the eruption, said on Twitter he was near the main crater about 30 minutes before the incident occurred. He said the boat ride home was “indescribable” as injured tourists were being tended to and massive plumes of ash billowed nearby.

“My thoughts with the families of those currently unaccounted for, the people recovering now, and especially the rescue workers,” Schade wrote.

Photos Schade post showed White Island tour operators helping people evacuate as thick plumes of ash towered into the sky.

More than 30 of those touring the island at the time of the explosion are believed to be guests of the Royal Caribbean International ship “Ovation of the Seas.”

“We are devastated by today’s events and our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy,” the cruise line told CNN. “We are working together with local authorities, and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling. We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible. Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as long as needed to assist with the situation.”

Satellite images captured the huge plume of smoke and ash that spewed into the sky during the eruption.

The New Zealand Civil Defense encouraged people living in or near the affected ash fall areas to consider staying indoors, closing windows and doors to limit the entry of volcanic ash and wearing a handkerchief or dust mask over the nose and mouth.

“Wear eyeglasses, NOT contact lenses as fine ash will get under the lens,” they said in a post on Facebook.

Dry and sunny weather was present at the time of the incident and that is expected to continue into midweek as officials continue their recovery efforts.

“Largely dry weather is expected across the island and surrounding waters through Wednesday,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Eric Leister.

“Winds out of the south to southeast into Wednesday will take any additional ash plumes away from land,” added Leister.

GeoNet, the government earthquake agency, said in a statement that the eruption was “short-lived” and generated an ash plume 12,000 feet into the sky.

The agency issued a Volcanic Alert Level of three for the eruption, indicating a minor volcanic eruption with a majority of the eruption hazards located near the vent. The Volcanic Alert Level is a scale ranging from zero to five with five representing a major eruption.

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