(By Jule Scherer, dpa)

Wellington (dpa) – Five people have been confirmed dead and many more are still missing after a volcano erupted on New Zealand’s White Island, a popular tourist destination, police say…

While it was initially believed there were approximately 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption at 2:11 pm (0111 GMT), police now believe there were fewer than 50 present.

Of those, at least 23 have been rescued from the island, with up to 27 still unaccounted for. The five victims were evacuated from the island, but later died.

Conditions on the island are still too unstable for police and rescuers to return, Deputy Commissioner John Tims said at a press conference in Wellington.

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Police are working with experts to determine when it would be safe to re-enter the island.

Police were unable to say how many people remained unaccounted for, but estimated that it was in the “double digits.”

Ambulance service St. John said at least 20 of those rescued were injured, seven of these critically and most of them with burns.

Those dead are of a “range of nationalities,” Tims said.

Many of the people affected were tourists visiting the active marine volcano for a day tour from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship.

While Tims confirmed that both New Zealanders and tourists had been affected, he couldn’t confirm the nationalities.

Emergency services attend to an injured person arriving at the Whakatane Airfield after the volcanic eruption Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, on White Island, New Zealand. (Alan Gibson/New Zealand Herald via AP)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was travelling to the area late Monday to ensure that police and the National Emergency Management Agency had all of the resources they needed.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter that a “terrible tragedy is unfolding in New Zealand after the volcano eruption. Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing.”

Scientist Ken Gledhill told media the eruption was “not a particularly big eruption, almost like a throat-clearing eruption.”

“It went up about 12,000 [feet] into the sky, so in the scheme of things in terms of a volcanic eruption it’s not large, but if you’re near to that it’s not good,” he said.

He added that he could not be certain there would not be an eruption in the next 24 hours.

White Island

White Island is the emergent peak of a large submarine volcano 48 kilometres from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty.

It has been marketed as one of the most accessible, active marine volcanoes in the world and is visited by around 10,000 people every year. It last erupted in 2016, but nobody came to harm.

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Author: ANA Newswire