As many as 20 people are thought to have been injured following a volcanic eruption on White Island – traditionally known as Whakaari – in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty.
The eruption took place at around 2.30pm local time on Monday afternoon, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming shortly after that there are thought to have been around 100 people on the island at the time of the incident.
Delivering her Post Cabinet address, she said: “Around 100 people on or around the island at the time of the eruption, and some are unaccounted for. A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore.”
The prime minister added that police were first notified of the situation at around 2.17pm, adding: “This is evolving, at this stage it does appear to be a very significant issue, particularly the scale of those affected at this stage.”
According to local publication TVNZ, there are currently thought to be around 20 casualties. While Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner told the news outlet: “I’ve got limited understanding at present other than there’s been an eruption, that there have been some people who were on the island at the time, who have had some injuries.
“I’m not sure of the extent or nature of those injuries and that emergency services are all waiting for them to be returned from the island so they can attend to them.”
Whakaari/White Island is erupting. More information soon. pic.twitter.com/B5m4BSa4bt
— GeoNet (@geonet) December 9, 2019
According to GeoNet – a partnership between the Earthquake Commission (EQC), GNS Science, and Land Information New Zealand – the Volcanic Alert Level has been raised to Level 4 following the eruption. Level 4 is classified as a ‘moderate eruption’, and is the second highest warning level.
New Zealand Police are leading the emergency response and, following the incident, urged members of the public to stay away from the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas while emergency services respond.
Tourists are suspected to have been injured in the eruption, and one tour guide who runs boat tours in the area took to social media to reveal that his group had managed to leave the island before the incident happened, before confirming that other groups remained on the island.
The guide for White Island Tours wrote on Facebook: “White island just erupted as we left, we have our work mates and a tour still on the island, I hope they ok.”
More to follow.