One dead in volcanic eruption off NZ coast
At least one person has died and a massive emergency operation is underway after a volcano erupted on New Zealand's White Island.
Police in New Zealand said up to 23 people have been taken off the island and it's "unclear" how many are still there, but it could be around 27 people.
There are reports 24 Australians were on the island at the time of the volcanic eruption.
Deputy police commissioner John Tims told reporters there has been one fatality and there is "likely to be more".
"A number of injured people have been transferred to hospital," he said.
"Emergency services are working to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We are working to confirm the numbers involved. At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island … the island is currently covered in ash and volcanic material."
He said most of the 23 people rescued from the island were suffering from burns.
A photo appearing to show people in the crater of White Island at 2.10pm (local time), moments before the eruption. Picture: GeoNetSource:Supplied
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said up to 100 people were on or near the volcano, also known as Whakaari, when it erupted at about 2.11pm local time and a number of others were "unaccounted for".
However, NZ Police later revised that figure to under 50 people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Monday night Australians "have been caught up in this terrible event".
He said the government is working to determine their wellbeing and updates will be provided.
A terrible tragedy is unfolding in NZ after the volcano eruption on Whakaari/White Island. Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their wellbeing.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) December 9, 2019
EARLIER: An eruption is currently happening at New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island.
Unconfirmed reports said up to 20 people were on or near the island at the time of the eruption and a rescue helicopter is on the way, The New Zealand Herald reports.
Some of the people on the island have critical injuries.
White Island Tours boats were reportedly near the island.
The TECT Rescue Helicopter is currently on its way to White Island. Two Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters are also said to be on their way to White Island.
Other rescue helicopters have not been dispatched at this stage.
Aerius Helicopters owner Graeme McKenzie said his business was currently not responding to the incident but was on standby. It operates tours to White Island.
The Rescue Coordination Centre said it is now a police matter.
A police spokesperson told SunLive that officers are responding to the incident.
"We don't have any further information at this stage."
Duty Volcanologist Geoff Kilgour told SunLive the aviation code has also been raised to orange.
GNS volcanologist Steven Sherburn confirmed an eruption began at about 2.15pm (12.15pm AEDT).
Sherburn said they were currently investigating the eruption.
The Volcanic Alert Level remained at level 4 (danger on volcanic cone and all island, possibility of very large eruption).
Diveworks owner/skipper Phil van Dusschoten, who is at the Whakatane Harbour watching the drama unfold, said he was on the island when it erupted several years ago. He said at that time the eruption was more ash that caused the nuisance but lately the eruptions have been more steam and gas-related.
He said from what he could see from the harbour, the eruption looked to be emitting steam and gas.
Whakaari/White Island is situated 48km from the east coast of the Bay of Plenty.
Whakaari/White Island is erupting. More information soon. pic.twitter.com/B5m4BSa4bt— GeoNet (@geonet) December 9, 2019