A volcano that erupted without warning on a New Zealand island popular with tourists killed one person and stranded at least two dozen more Monday, with rescues too risky to attempt and police warning the death toll will likely rise.
White Island is an active andesite stratovolcano, located off the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty.
Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon - hurling ash and rock high into the air.
Police in New Zealand say they do not believe any survivors will be found.
As night fell, deputy commissioner John Tims said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt by land too unsafe.
In June, geologists raised the Volcanic Alert to "level 2", indicative of increased seismic and volcanic activity at the site which could lead to a sudden, violent eruption.
The New Zealand Defence Force said it was "sending a number of NZDF assets and personnel to assist in the emergency response following the eruption on White Island", according to a statement. Reuters reports that images taken from one of the cameras posted around the rim showed a group of people right at the edge of the rim moments before the volcano exploded. According to NBCNews.com, two Americans, Matthew and Lauren Urey of Richmond, Virginia, were on the island when the volcano erupted.
"The absolute focus needs to be the search and rescue", Ms Ardern said.
"A number of people were reportedly injured and being transported to shore", she said.
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"I'm not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care", said Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner. "I can assure them that police are doing everything they can".
Scott said it was not for him to say whether the island was safe enough to host tourists immediately before Monday's eruption.
Some of those involved were tourists from the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency said the eruption occurring at White Island is "hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano" and that the agency is assessing the situation with scientific advisors to determine the severity of the threat.
(UPDATE: Dec. 9 @ 10:40 am): New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has provided more information about the tragic volcano eruption in her country.
The service decreased its Volcanic Alert Level from an initial reading of a 4 to a 3 on its 5-point scale, meaning it is a minor volcanic eruption posing a threat only near its vent.
Sherburn said they were now investigating the eruption.
Sulphur mining, which began in 1885, stopped in 1914 after a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the mine and village, killing twelve people. It last experienced a short-lived eruption in 2016. The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.